The good and good and bad of zoos

I’m one of those wildlife nuts that simply can’t get enough of animals. Some wildlife nuts won’t step into a zoo but I think that’s a shame. Some zoos are utter rubbish and bad environments to house cockroaches, let alone lions and chimps (Cairo – been there, done that and been disgusted) but most zoos try to do the right thing. For some zoos, the right thing is not only to try to give the animals as good an environment as possible, given the artificial constraints, but to also blend commercial realities with the real reasons zoos should exist, and those are of course research, conservation and rehabilitation.

My local one is the Adelaide Zoo. It’s right in the heart of the city so it will probably always be the size it is and yet it looks fantastic. The director is Dr Chris West and is a good bloke, a visionary and a leader in conservation. He also oversees Monarto Zoo, Australia’s largest open plains zoo and the venue for an exhibition of mine and Leigh Rust’s chimpanzee paintings a couple of years ago. We were lucky enough to have the exhibition opened by none other than that beautiful person Dr Jane Goodall, UN Messenger for Peace and Dame of the Birtish Empire.

I often go to these zoos and wander through all the exhibits gathering material for my art and seeing the great things they are doing. I spend a lot of time in Africa too and no zoo can match the wild, but Adelaide and Monarto Zoos do a great job. On one particular morning a couple of years ago, I sat watching the orangutans for ages. They were Pusung and Karta. Pusung looked particularly sad all morning. Maybe that’s just his demeanor but he certainly tugged at my heartstrings. I created the following portrait “I just want to go home” in scratchboard. It is done entirely with a fibreglass brush (mentioned in previous posts) and sandpaper and coloured with inks and some coloured pencils and for anyone interested, I’m including some closeups. The piece is 8″ x 10″ and I’ve aimed to get as much of that sorrow that I saw into it as possible.

Pusung died three months after I sat there that morning.

And here’s a progress shot before any colour was added