I like to think I can trace my interest in the environment back to childhood memories of meeting kangaroos at the local wildlife parks, seeing the big cats at the zoo and picking up starfish at the aquarium. But the truth is that it was an interest fostered by my parents and their actions encouraging a love of animals. It was my father who insisted we have a cat and my mother who bought me a big cat book, which among other things lead to my love of big cats. It was my parents who bought me an encounter with a cheetah for my 16th birthday as we’re lucky enough to live near a zoo which has a variety of animal encounters available (albeit at an expensive price and with age limits).
It was my father who an early age taught me how to gain the trust of animals to get close to them. Whether this was the neighbour’s ginger cat, my aunt’s lamb who needed bottle feeding, my grandfather’s rabbits or the neighbourhood magpies looking for food. I believe it was these encounters and his encouragement which first sparked the care of animals which then stretched out to other animals when they were visited in a zoo.
It was the zoo visits which fostered an even greater love of animals and through which I gained an awareness of conservation efforts. We would travel often when I was a child (with my little monkey lost soft toy hanging off me) and as such I have been to many zoos and aquariums. The two zoos which stand out are the Western Plains Zoo and Mogo Zoo.
Both of these zoos have a lot of room for the larger animals to roam and appear to be in their native habitat. Which is preferable to other displays with animals being “put on show” purely for the entertainment of the visitors. I feel that this action makes the animals look as if they are the property of humans, rather than companions on the earth (thereby lessening connectedness).
In my experience, the most effective way of increasing connectedness with nature are those experiences which have involved up close and personal engagement. For example, holding snakes and lizards in a reptile park, playing with fish, shells and crabs in rock pools (at the beach or at an aquarium), patting kangaroos at the conservation park, hearing the hyenas laughing at the zoo and smelling koala fur (which smells a bit like marijuana).