Have you ever someone say, “I wish I had never seen _____” or “I wish the memory of _____”? This past weekend I went with some friends and cohort members to Belgrade, Serbia to visit our friends we go to the University of Denver with. During our trip, we decided to go to the zoo and the fortress which were right next to each other. We had no idea that some emotional preparation would have helped prior to walking through the zoo entrance.
Upon finally exiting the zoo, I caught myself saying, “I wish I could erase the images of those animals from my mind.” Really, this statement isn’t saying that I wish I hadn’t gone in general; what it really means when we say statements like this is that we wish our ignorance was still intact, because the guilt and pain we are now subject to is stressful and taxing. How horrible for us, to have to experience such internal pain, when the animals of the Belgrade Zoo are so stressed their feathers and fur are falling out. Perhaps the worst part is knowing there is very little we can actively do. We can write to PETA, and if you look online many people have, but even then you must get signatures or go through some process to even begin the process of improving the situation. This takes time. And during this time, the monkeys are in a 10×10 cage, being taunted by tourists and locals, the hippos are swimming in their own filth in a poop not even big enough for one baby hippo, the baby bison looks dehydrated and malnourished, the elephant’s foot is visibly deteriorating, and I could go on and on. There was not one animal that didn’t look depressed out of its mind, or bored, or in pain. I wish I could hop into the cages or pens and physically take the animals with me, but I certainly don’t have a safer place for them to go and I have no training in the care of such species. The pain of not being able to do anything is horrible, but after being in Srebrenica for the Peace March and the burial day I no longer want to be that person who says statements yearning for past ignorance. Ignorance is the deadliest of poisons and knowledge is power. I can guarantee that the pain of no longer being ignorant is not worse than the pain of others, like these animals, that broke the ignorance to begin with.
Although nothing can be done immediately, a woman in our University of Denver, International Disaster Psychology program submitted photos and wrote to PETA and I followed suit. With luck, these small steps add up to a larger change some point in the future, hopefully sooner than later. The experience also makes me ponder about what can be done personally in the future. I don’t think the activist lifestyle fits very well with my goals or personality, but I have always wanted to incorporate animals into my profession. My ever-evolving dream begins with living on a medium to large plot of land, with space to grow an animal-assisted therapy program. I’m not sure of the population yet, but I know it will be with youths. Perhaps this design has room for rescuing abused exotic animals, who knows. The moral of the story is that although you personally may not be able to do something in an exact moment, your life and the actions you take still are impactful and the experiences you have can change the lives of others in the future. I may not have the resources, connections, or power to change the Belgrade Zoo, but I can positively impact the lives of other animals in the states, fight for international animal rights, and teach others the importance of shedding their ignorance and standing up for what you they think is right and just in the world. There is always something one can do and no matter how small, it does make a difference.