I can’t decide how I feel about zoos.
The hippy-dippy, animal-loving, fairness-and-justice-for-all part of me wants to hate them for locking wild creatures up in confined spaces for people to gawk at. The less respectable part of me likes them for doing precisely that, because, well, I like to gawk at the animals. I’m conflicted.
So anyway, went to Tallinn Zoo yesterday.
In no particular order, the things that had a lasting impact were:
1 – This sign in theTropical Room, where they keep the crocodiles and suchlike, and which gets very steamy:
2 – A squabble that broke out amongst the seals, caused by an unexpected seagull invasion. I have become increasingly distrustful of seagulls, following the Giant Seagull Incident of a few weeks ago, where I sat quite close to one was almost killed by one. They follow me around now. Watching. Waiting. Making terrifying squawking noises and dive-bombing me in the street. I feel partly responsible for the seal fight, as it is clearly my presence that draws the seagulls in.
3 – The friendliness of the camel, as a species. Or The Amazing Camel, as the sign outside the camel enclosure proudly proclaimed. One actually stuck its head through the fence as I was mid-conversation with it (I found it more difficult to communicate with the animals in Tallinn Zoo than in Belfast Zoo, as my Estonian conversation skills are still sadly rather poor. But I tried. And they weren’t overly critical of my limited vocabulary), and puckered its lips to give me a kiss. Riho was a little less enthusiastic about this, as he was quite startled to discover one eating his hair as he concentrated on taking a picture of the other one kissing me.
4 – A real, living Crazy Cat Lady. It was like meeting myself 50 years later, as this is almost certainly how I am going to turn out. She appeared by my side as I was waiting patiently to get a shot of some sort of jungle cat, and said something in an urgent, fast-paced whisper. I shrugged apologetically. “Ma ei räägi eesti keelt.” This did not deter her: clearly, she sensed a Crazy Cat Lady bond that no language barrier could break. She babbled something else, and then beckoned me closer as she turned her attention to the afore-mentioned large cat. “Tsst-tsst-tsst!” she hissed in quite an alarming manner, followed by a lot of scary-sounding mumbling. “Tsst-tsst-tsst!” I was greatly impressed to see the cat pause, turn, and then walk slowly towards her. She said something to me, and I understood that I was to take my photographs now. “Thanks,” I said, quite amused, as I left her crooning to the cat, which now appeared to be swaying slightly.
I was more than a little disturbed when, having completed my tour of the Big Cat enclosures, I returned to take a picture of Crazy Cat Lady, and found her chanting what could easily have been some kind of spell under her breath as she gazed at a tiger. It was decidedly unsettling to see the sleeping tiger open its eyes, raise its head as if in a trance, and slowly get up and pad with the softness of an elderly tabby cat towards the mad, whispering woman without breaking eye contact. Not knowing whether to feel more awed or frightened, I backed away.
The awe is certainly there. The fear, however, comes from a strong suspicion that this is what lies ahead of me. Cat whispering. This encounter was just a glimpse into the future of my eternal spinsterhood. Crazy Cat Lady knew it. She sensed the connection, the bond. She knew. I am doomed.