Observing the Humans at the Zoo

Sometimes it’s as much fun observing the humans as it is the animals! 

Photo by Zahra Jentges on Unsplash

I am lucky enough to be a volunteer at our local zoo. I am on the Behavior Observation Team with the elephants. I never tire of watching them and my two-hour shift sometimes becomes a three or four hour shift. It’s meditative, calming, soothing, quieting.

It’s not nearly as calming when observing the human guests that come to the zoo. 

We are an interesting species. For the most part, wonderful to behold and watch and be part of. As I continue to age, I find myself observing and noticing more and more, now having the time to stop and really listen, really hear, really look. And we can be such a wonderful species. 

For the most part.

We are funny. And inspiring. And completely befuddling.

Inspiring. The 92-year-old volunteer who answers questions, engages the children and families alike with his brightness, cheer and lovely spirit. Although no longer able to walk easily, he now has his zoo scooter that he gets around with. He stations himself at the elephant exhibit and is a delight to watch and listen to. He has been a volunteer there for 30 years. He talks about enjoying each moment, as he never knows what may come next, being 92. All said with a twinkle in his eye. 

Encouraging. The grandmother, who when answering her grandchild’s question of why the elephant had walked further away, asked that child “You know how you need to be alone sometimes and get away from everyone and get some space? Elephants need that too.” Such a moment of teaching wisdom and empathy. 

Delightful. Adults becoming children once again, totally mesmerized by the animals before them. Smiling, laughing, mouths open and facades dropped, even for a few moments. 

Funny. Listening to parents, who are dealing with excited children. Children who may be tired, hungry, overstimulated, or cranky. 

Funny. A mother yelling “You need to watch the elephants for at least 30 seconds!” when her child wants to run quickly to another exhibit. “30 seconds and no less!”

Funny. Dad, with an attitude of disbelief, sighing “I did not bring you to the zoo to watch a squirrel!” Yet the child is completely fascinated with the squirrel that comes close to him, ignoring the elephant right in front of him in the exhibit. 

Funny. Guests, often men, explaining facts to others (unsolicited) about elephants, that have no basis whatsoever in any truth. I have to admire the authority that they speak with. It can be so convincing, even if totally inaccurate. 

Befuddling. Parents yanking their children away, while the child may be completely mesmerized by the animal before them and want to just stand there watching. Parents trying to get to see all the animals, without ever really spending time with any one of them. Quantity and lists of things to do winning out over the chance of being in the moment and allowing their child to be in that precious moment of connection as well.

Befuddling. Parents making up stories about animals when their children ask, rather than daring to admit that they don’t know, but can find out.

Endearing. A young man, who has given himself a day at the zoo, comes up to me shyly asking questions. Shy about even having given himself such a day. Opening up when I not only answer his questions, but make suggestions about things to see and areas to go to. Smiling when I encourage him having done this as such a great thing to do for himself. Because it really is. He lingers a bit, takes it all in. Smiles as he leaves. 

Encouraging and inspiring for the future. The zookeepers who come to so deeply love the animals that they care for, and try so hard to do their very best for them. Knowing that a zoo is imperfect, yet also knowing that good work, rescue work, education, and conservation work is being done by this wonderful zoo. Young souls caregiving the precious creatures that we share this earth with. Not paid nearly enough, yet loving their work. Young caregivers of these beings that we are in danger of losing. 

This gives me some hope for the future of our planet. As an elder, I won’t be around to see what happens, but I have hope that these young caregivers can be warriors for the planet and its many inhabitants. 

This journey of aging helps me see the lessons in everything. Even a day at the zoo.

To realize that we are a species that has its own patterns of behavior, its own quirks, its own rhythms. 

To realize that we need to take time to really see, hear ourselves and each other. That we don’t know everything and that that’s perfectly ok. That we are separate from and yet part of all of creation. That we need to be part of the story and the work of rescuing our earth and its creatures. That we are separate, and yet not so different, from our non-human cohabitants of this earth.

We are all connected. And spending time really being with each other, taking our time, quietly observing and listening, may be the thing that we need the most of all. 

3 thoughts on “Observing the Humans at the Zoo

  1. This here: “This gives me some hope for the future of our planet. As an elder, I won’t be around to see what happens, but I have hope that these young caregivers can be warriors for the planet and its many inhabitants.” The young ones give me hope too, especially what they call Generation Z (I really hate labels, but some young people I know are embracing the label Gen Z so I guess …). In a weird sort of way, they remind me of myself when I was their age: concerned about the environment and nature, climate change, and our democracy. I was politically engaged when I was a teenager, more so, I think, than the generation or two that came after me.

    Thank you for sharing your observations. Some were too funny 🙂 And I’m glad you have a 92-year-old caregiver to look up to. He must be an amazing man!

    P.S. I’m drifting away from Medium. That’s why I’m responding to you here on WP. I chose not to renew my subscription so now I’m severely limited in the number of articles I can read. I just got overwhelmed by Medium. Yes, I know, I was the one going on about how fun it was to write there. I tried to keep up, but, really, since my sisters died last year, keeping up with anything has been difficult. If time heals all wounds, I feel I’m in for a long wait.


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