Vicarious Ventures: Go to the zoo

Columnist Greg Trainor travles to the Philadelphia Zoo for a much-needed study break.

This year has dragged its feet as it flew by, and the other night, I stalled in the middle of an all-nighter. I hit a creative vacuum. I’d had too much coffee, too little sleep and too many all-nighters, but something was missing.

After two hours of laying on the carpet staring at the ceiling, I realized I needed to go to the zoo.
I posted it on my Facebook status before I fell asleep — “Going to the zoo! Gonna see some big f—ing animals! TXT me if you want to come!”

Essentially, the point of the trip was to find out why we are here, and I don’t mean here as in Temple. I mean here.

Two friends were in need of the same infusion, so we slept late and skipped our Friday classes. I missed two teaching assistants paying their dues, one graduate student struggling to deal with her own homework while teaching Lolita and one math teacher who told us at the beginning, “Don’t come if you don’t want to come.”

In exchange for missing my classes and hurting my grades, I received a perfect Friday afternoon. You can decide whether it was worth it.

Two friends and I arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo by mid-afternoon. The zoo, located at 34th Street and Girard Avenue, is the oldest zoo in the United States. It has monkeys, elephants, hippos – lions, tigers and bears. It has this huge sculpture that looks like a ram, styled by the illustrator for Where the Wild Things Are.

There’s also an elephant shrew, but he seems to hide underneath the wood chips, giggling because you can’t see him, and he knows how desperately you want to know what an elephant shrew looks like.

We saw gorillas fight, and it was as amazing as you would dream.

The only thing that kept the day from being 100 percent perfect was the darn kids that we now, as adults, have to let up to the front so they can see. But they don’t even seem to appreciate it. At one point, a certain brat wandered too far from her mom, and I thought for a long second, I could probably teach them all a lesson by quickly tossing this one into an animal cage, but I missed my window.

There was also a creepy, hippie-looking kid (most likely tripping on acid) who we kept running into, thanks to the natural lazy river of crowds at zoos. He looked like British comedian Russel Brand, from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and the way he stared at the glass, it looked like he may have been there to free the gorillas. The paranoia side effect of whatever drug he was on must’ve kicked in because he noticed our curious glare and spent the rest of his day looking over his shoulder at us like we were the time police.

The point is, sometimes you just need to go to the zoo and see some big animals. That sounds stupid, right? Well, it’s true. Sometime, in the next week or two, you will stare at a blank page with a stretched brain, and the harder you work, the more options you’ll have to face.

Go to work, or go to the zoo? I fully acknowledge the reality of grades and their relationship to things like scholarships and internships, but there is a greater lack of purpose to our time here. So, go watch a red panda nap in a hammock because it will make you happy.

Greg Trainor can be reached at


  1. The animals are confined to those cramped enclosures 24/7 for your entertainment … if seeing that makes you happy it speaks volumes about you and your lack of understand/education/consciousness.

    Most zoo visitors usually spend only a few minutes or seconds at each display, seeking entertainment rather than enlightenment. Even the March 2007 issue of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums magazine Connect details a study that found visitors to zoos rarely “ retained even a few basic facts. When asked “What did you learn at this exhibit?” the most popular answer was “Nothing.”

    An article in the November 2006 issue notes that: “…learning is not a popular reason for people to visit zoos and aquariums. Everyone would like it to be true, but the specifics and logic of how casual visits to zoos really function in the conservation movement remains unproven.”

    Captive animals are mere shells of their wild counterparts. People learn nothing about animals’ natural lives and behaviors by watching them languish in manmade habitats and unnatural circumstances. Zoos often prevent animals from engaging in basic innate behaviors such as flying, swimming, running, hunting, climbing, scavenging, and selecting a mate.

    Instead of using funds to enrich and improve the lives of the animals, zoos consistently spend money to make improvements to entertain and accommodate people. Zoos all over are paying to revamp their entrances, parking lots, concession stands, and other human conveniences.

    The only thing zoos teach people is that it is acceptable to manipulate animals for our own purposes. People who truly care about animals—and want to help save them—know that this is the wrong lesson.

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