About this episode:
Dr Fay Clark is an animal welfare scientist. A self-confessed “zoo geek”, she specialises in the assessment and enhancement of captive animal welfare in traditional zoos, safari parks, sanctuaries and aquariums. She is currently based at Bristol Zoo where she examines how the welfare of large-brained mammals can be enhanced through cognitively challenging activities. In this in-depth conversation, she reflects on how zoos have transformed from a Victorian spectacle with “poking sticks” to educational conservations, describes how ring-tailed lemurs can adapt to habitats that differ from their Madagascan roots, and explains how technology is revealing how animals solve puzzles, including when they are playing us at our own game!
On Valentine’s Day of this year I received an email that read:
Hi David, Sorry to bother you again – I was just wondering whether you would like to “meet” some lemurs when you come and visit on 7th March?
Trawling the depths of my memory, I don’t think it’s hyperbole when I say that I have never been more excited at the receipt of an email in my life!
From the moment we started corresponding to set up this interview, I found Fay to be clever, well-informed and absolutely hilarious. Even before the promise of first-hand lemur contact I was looking forward to discussing dolphins, zoos and where we as humans stand in comparison to each other. Little did I know that our conversation would cover Tinder for apes, plane tickets for snakes and how dolphins can not only be really horrible, but they also have x-ray vision and, if they had the chance, would probably destroy us.
This interview really talks for itself, but what I’d love to add here is a little about the Bristol Zoo’s Wild Place.
I really love institutions with ambition, and places that seem unconfined by conventional logic. Wild Place is still growing, developing, and in parts under construction – but there’s no denying its ambition and how much people seem to be enjoying it. Even on the rainy day in March that I visited, children were smiling (albeit a little angry that they couldn’t enter the baboon tent that we were occupying), the animals seemed to have loads of space and a myriad of activities to occupy themselves, and even the volunteer staff, wearing waterproof ponchos, seemed to take pride in the ethos of the place. I look forward to seeing how the project grows over the following years.
Talking with Fay about the evolution of the zoo, mankind’s relationship with animals and how conventional wisdom has altered so much over recent decades, it makes me wonder what our future selves will deem the barbarity of these current times. I hope the future is a happier place.
THE WILD PLACE
LONDON ZOO @ THE TOWER OF LONDON
FRANK BUCKLAND (WIKIPEDIA)
MARGARET HOWE LOVATT & PETER THE DOLPHIN (WIKIPEDIA)