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Seeing Beyond Ourselves

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When I decided to pay a visit to the Toronto Zoo one gloomy day in March, my idea was that I would go, walk around, see the animals and hopefully get a few nice shots with my new camera that I so desperately wanted to test on something other than my family’s dog, Atticus. As I have always had a love for travel, animals and photography, I thought; what better way to spend a gloomy, boring afternoon than to visit the zoo? There, I could visit every country, see plenty of interesting animals, and hopefully take some good photos. What I didn’t expect from my trip, however, was to see something that would change how I viewed these animals that I love so much. I did not expect to learn so much from a visit to the zoo that I had visited so many times before.

I started my day with a plan: “Must-sees” included the Elephants, Hippos, Lions and various Apes, as those are my favourites. However, as I was with my mother, my day begun with an early visit to the bird observatory. I trailed behind, feigning interest as she would point at one after the other, commenting on its beauty and telling me I should take a photo of it. Eventually, we made our way through the birds and after working our way through the fish, moved on to my list of animals I wanted to see. We started with the Hippos, which have always been a favourite of mine. I was once signed up as a “pet parent” for the Hippos at the Toronto Zoo as a birthday present from my older sister, which I was ecstatic about. I took some photos of the hippos, but soon moved on, as Hippos, despite being a personal favourite, are not the most active animals and therefore do not make for the most interesting of subjects when taking photos. I moved onto the Elephants, which I absolutely adore. Something about Elephants has always fascinated me. They say Elephants never forget. I tend to be a somewhat forgetful person, someone who casually leaves her purse in restaurants, or in one instance, left a t-shirt I had just purchased at a concert, at a hot-dog stand outside of the venue. So, naturally, if you tell me the creature in front of me does not forget anything, and can, as an adult, retrace trails walked as an infant, I am going to be in awe and respect that creature. And so I do. I snapped away at the Elephants, capturing some photos that I am in fact, quite proud of. After I was finished capturing every move of each Elephant for about 15 minutes, I moved on to the Orangutans, an animal I have loved ever since watching the Disney movie The Jungle Book as a child. It was while observing the Orangutans that I gained a new appreciation for all animals.

I approached the Orangutan observatory casually, peeking through a small crowd of people, trying to get at least one decent photo, when I took notice of one of the Orangutans; the one who appeared to be the largest. This particular Orangutan caught my attention because of how absolutely human he looked. He was laying on his stomach, arms in front of him, and a stick in his hands. He looked like a distressed, or perhaps bored, person. A woman beside me spoke up, saying, “awe, it looks sad”, and as I carefully watched the Ape in front of me, I certainly did agree. Almost as soon as the woman beside me suggested that the Orangutan was sad, another, smaller Orangutan crawled from where it was sitting on the other side of the habitat, over to the where the larger one was. The smaller Orangutan then did something that sparked in me a life-long appreciation for these animals: it put it’s hand on the larger Orangutan’s back, and began to rub it, as if to comfort it. I don’t know why; perhaps it was nothing more than regular interaction between two Orangutans. I am, after all, no expert on these creatures; but perhaps it was more. I personally believe that it was. I immediately pulled out my camera and snapped a photo. It was certainly not the best photo I took that day, from a technical standpoint, but it certainly was the most revealing and raw. It leads me to believe that there is more to these animals than we know.

As soon as I got home, I immediately turned on my computer and began researching the social behaviours of Orangutans. What I discovered was that Orangutans are actually amongst the most solitary of Apes. This was shocking to me, as the display that I had witnessed was indeed a social one; one that could have been any pair of humans who care about each other. And so, I thought, perhaps we don’t fully understand these animals.

It is easy in our world, as seemingly developed and advanced as we are, to forget that we don’t have all of the answers. We do not know everything. While we have studied these animals in great depths, perhaps we just don’t know everything about their minds, their lives, their thoughts and capacity to feel and empathize. This sighting moved me because I have always loved animals, and have always stood up for their rights, so far as making the decision to go Vegetarian at age 13. This just proves that animals are on our level. They can comfort and love just as we comfort and love, and really, what is more important than that?



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