Tuesday, 28 August 2007
We’re staying in Mallorca, which will make some of you groan. There are loads of pretty uncivilized Brits out here demanding their full English breakfasts, lager round the clock and still wanting to watch all their soaps and footie matches in the numerous Irish bars (we even spotted a Liverpool bar in our travels!)
And when I clocked Rent-a-bike operating next to a lap-dancing bar, I had to smile. There are indeed some areas of the island that are so ravaged by tourism it does feel like you’re in a documentary - but away from the tourist hot-spots there still some wonderful unspoilt places – honestly! Quiet bays, beautiful expensive boats in classy marinas and some breathtaking villas.
As we have two young kids to entertain, we are always on the look out for stimulating days out and a trip to the island’s only Safari-Zoo sounded just the thing.
You could tell from first look it wasn’t the best-resourced establishment. It certainly wasn’t Longleat! But we’d come a long way, so we had to go inside.
For those who don’t have cars, Safari-Zoo provides an open sided vehicle - painted in zebra stripes – to take people around.
We set off directly behind it. The carriages were nearly empty holding only a handful of people, I remember wondering how the place survives, it couldn’t be taking much money– and I’m afraid it showed. The park looked bleak and unloved.
But the zebras were really friendly and you could get very close to all the animals, we put our windows down and gave them a stroke. The zebras followed us for a while; I got the feeling that they don’t get to see that many cars these days - we seemed a bit of a novelty.
The handful of zebras were mixed in with a few wildebeests, and a couple of ostriches. It all seemed a bit random. And there wasn’t much land for anyone, or shade or anything remotely green.
The baboons were next and they seemed very lively. They were excited by the arrival of the zebra-striped train. Monkeys were inside the carriages in a flash and jumping on the roof even though the vehicle was moving quite quickly. It was a hot day and we’d expected most of the animals to be snoozing,
As we came nearer, we saw one of the baboons was now lying in the middle of the road. My husband Graham said perhaps it was a trick by the cheeky monkeys to make us stop. But as we approached it didn’t move, and as we drove around it we could all see it was lying in a pool of fresh blood.
Luckily I had my mobile with me – so I phoned and told them there was a baboon down, expecting a vet to be on the scene very quickly or at least a park official to check it out.
Just then a very angry baboon jumped on our car – giving us a start, she was obviously the matriarch. She was pretty upset by one of her family being injured, so were we.
As we drove on, we never did see anyone rush to the poor monkey’s aid – and the park was very small so we had it in vision for what seemed like ages.
When we finished our upsetting tour we decided to look around the rest of the zoo on foot and I’m afraid things didn’t get any better.
Kieran, my six-year-old son remarked, “Mummy, why do they have such small enclosures? ” Cameron (aged 8) said, “They have nothing to play with – poor things. Someone should close this place down.”
I’m not a vet, but one of the lions looked to be in particularly poor shape, very thin and shaky on his legs.
But the two elephants really did bring a tear to my eye. The space they were in was so small, bare and dull. One of the elephant’s toes looked badly overgrown and they both just looked so very sad.
I made eye contact with so many miserable creatures that day; I really did feel so helpless.
The tannoy announced a magic show was starting soon, and we hoped this would cheer everyone up.
On the way to it, I bumped into the driver of the zebra train and asked for news of the baboon. In front of both children she just said, “It’s dead. They are just so aggressive, always fighting between themselves and jumping on the vehicles.” She seemed so matter of fact, no pretence of regret at a life lost. I wondered to myself if it had committed suicide. How long had it been left on that road?
I spotted our boys’ bottom lips trembling. We hurried them along to the arena, hoping that the magic man could do the trick and restore their holiday spirit.
But it was magic like you probably used to see in the Victorian age, with live animals and dubious contraptions that probably squashed them into small spaces. We watched open-mouthed as birds, rabbits and big cats were used in ways I’m sure that no circus would permit in Britain today.
An hour later, there was another show, only this time just involving big cats. We decided to stick around – was Mallorca the last place on earth to welcome acts that exploited animals?
The big cat show involved three leopards and an elderly female lion. The heavily tattooed promoter seemed to have difficulty keeping them all awake and he held a big stick, which he used repeatedly.
My son Kieran shouted at him to stop hitting the cats, but it made no difference. The cats looked old and lumpy - apart from one young one that still had the spring in its legs to do some stunts. Without the stick they’d have all been fast asleep.
I got the feeling that this bloke probably loved his big cats in a weird way and this was the last place on earth where he could live with them in this strange way. The magic man seemed to live on site, too with his brood. Could Safari Zoo be the last refuge on earth for those who make their living out of dodgy animal acts?
It all felt very uncomfortable. Like stepping back into an era where animals really did have to jump through hoops to earn their dinner.
I can’t see how the Safari Zoo makes enough money to feed their animals, let alone pay for vet fees. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe it needs to turn itself into a sanctuary and ditch any pretext of providing any entertainment. Give the animals back their dignity and try to improve their standards of living by just asking for donations.
Safari Zoo certainly educated our kids to care about animal exploitation – so the day wasn’t a total disaster. I’m pleased to say their instincts were strong and passionate.
I’ll be contacting WSPA to see if they can keep an eye on things, surely I’m not the only person who has left Safari Zoo worrying about the animals’ futures. Let me know if you’ve ever visited or know any more about the zoo.