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Visiting Berlin Zoo – Captured life as entertainment?

It has been over 15 years since I last set foot in a zoo. I still remember the one in Naples and its tight cages. When I decided to buy my first ticket for the Zoologischer Garten Berlin*, the idea was simply to take pictures of animal. I didn't realise how much this experience would touch for me.

What astounded me the most was the type of audience attracted by the zoo. Not only families with children, but mainly young couples, teenagers and tourists; perhaps confused and lost in the translation, or ignorant that the Berliner Zoologischer Garten has become infamous not just because of the zoo, but also for other human stories.

However, perhaps also due to this ignorance, the Berlin Zoo has to come to be a very lucrative enterprise, judging from the long lines at the counters visible until late afternoon.

Ticket price: € 13.

If you can understand why each medium and large city in the world has at least one zoo (two in Berlin), and you can understand the origin or for which popular purpose; then the question nowadays is what are zoo visitors seeking and finding by watching the sad eyes of animals in cages?

What function does this depressing experience have in their lives? Are these people really able to put all the necessary distance between themselves and those miserable lives, as to gain from it a new opportunity for entertainment? Is it just entertainment or also the subtle claim of humankind's superiority over the natural world, that perhaps we can no longer feel and affirm in our daily lives?

One can debate the legitimacy of this catharsis; however, the rules of the game are known and accepted by players and audience: it’s fiction. When the shooting's done, mournful mothers and heroes go back to being more or less known stars and the show will go on, thanks to someone else.

Nowadays, with the amount of information we have access to, the original popular function of the zoo has failed; likewise the symbolic representation of the relationship between man and nature that it mediates is dysfunctional compared to current demands of sustainable development; and the preservation of the species themselves must be reconsidered in the perspective of these instances, giving value and support to those local initiatives for protection of species and their habitats.

As a child I would be happy to be responsible for the existence of a tree in the Amazon rainforest. This doesn't mean, I want it on the balcony.

By Diana Gurdulù Pacelli

*The Zoologischer Garten Berlin, opened in 1844, is the oldest zoo in Germany and the most diversified. The price of single ticket of admission to the Zoo or Aquarium is € 13. Cost of Zoo and Aquarium ticket together is € 20. The final budget for 2011 shows €15 million income from tickets (more than 2.94 million visitors) and an annual net income of three million. In 2011 the Zoo and Aquarium combined 35 hectares have hosted 17,727 animals divided by 1,571 species: invertebrates 7,802 – 365 species; fish 5,593 – 596 species; birds 1,944 – 309 species; 1,063 mammal – 174 species; amphibians 941 – 53 species; reptiles 384 – 74 species. In 2011 29 animals were captured and 909 were the result of breeding.

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