Bugwoman on Location – Innsbruck

The second of an occasional series in which Bugwoman investigates the urban wildlife of other cities.

A Green Wall Lizard - not something I ever see in London!

A Green Wall Lizard – not something I ever see in London!

This week, I have been on holiday in the Austrian Alps, and decided to visit Innsbruck, the unofficial capital of the Tyrol. I found this lizard at the Alpenzoo, which is in the mountains just above the city, and which specializes in Alpine fauna. As usual, I was much more interested in the animals who had occupied the zoo of their own free will than those who were behind bars, and so I spent a lot of time watching the lizards sunbathing and arguing about who owned which rock.

A Common Wall Lizard - I think the concrete must have been hot as this creature has raised its feet...

A Common Wall Lizard – I’ve caught this one as it ran away from another lizard, it has its little feet in mid leap…

When I wasn’t searching the walls for lizards, I was watching the sparrows who had set up house in the zoo. They had made their nests under the eaves of the newly-built aquarium building:

A comfy sparrow's nest

A comfy sparrow’s nest

They used the pond for drinking water:

The main outdoor pond of the aquarium provides plenty of drinking and bathing water

The main outdoor pond of the aquarium provides plenty of drinking and bathing water

Furthermore, the Aquarium was right next to the cafe, so the sparrows were soon all around us, checking out the Sachertorte…

Alpenzoo 014 blogAlpenzoo 013 BlogHowever, the sparrows weren’t just after crumbs. They were also hawking for insects just like flycatchers, and were extremely acrobatic, flinging themselves into the air to catch mosquitoes and flies. I have often noticed that, when there are babies in the nest, sparrows cease to be purely gramnivorous (grain-eating) and start to seek out more protein-rich foods. In London Zoo,for example, I’ve seen them stripping the meat from the bones in the vulture cage, .

If there were no croissant-crumbling visitors or flying insects, the sparrows could always ‘borrow’ the food from the other animals:

The sparrows 'borrowing' food from the pigs

The sparrows ‘borrowing’ food from the pigs

But although I enjoyed watching the sparrows and the lizards, and although the Alpenzoo is a very well-run zoo, I still find it hard to spend time with animals in captivity. Here, for example, are a pair of ravens in the ‘Ravenry’ at the zoo:

Captive Ravens

Captive Ravens

I had seen wild ravens in one of the valleys only the previous day, and watched them fly and tumble over the pine trees, making their distinctive cronking call to one another. They are the very spirit of remote places, and their incarceration in the midst of their wild brethren seemed cruel and unnecessary. After all, if you wanted to see a wild raven you didn’t have to travel far. At one point, a raven landed in the trees a hundred metres away, and started to call.

Alpenzoo 020 blogThe captive ravens started to call back:

Am I alone in wondering about the role of zoos? I accept that some do pioneering work in conservation (I’m thinking of the Gerald Durrell zoo in Jersey in particular), and some become sanctuaries for animals when their native habitat is destroyed. But I think zoos often overstate their education and conservation roles, and simply become ‘Cabinets of Curiosity’, places where people can gawk and point and pull faces at animals without learning a single thing that will change their attitude to that creature in the wild.

I speak as someone who has always loved being close to animals, being able to see them, hear them,  smell them. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve wanted this to be on more equal terms – I find the thrill of seeing a bird on my birdtable, or a fox in my back garden, much more soul-satisfying than the same creature in a cage, where it has no choice but to interact. I feel that encounters with animals are a privilege, not a right, and that before we take away a creature’s freedom we should be very, very sure that we are doing it in the interests of that animal, not just to increase our visitor figures and our profit.

10 thoughts on “Bugwoman on Location – Innsbruck

  1. Pat Walsh

    I just wanted to say how much I love reading your blog. Searching out and writing about the often overlooked wildlife and plants both in London and on your travels makes for deeply delightful reading, and has made me pay closer attention to what’s all around me. Thank you!

  2. Marla

    I can’t agree with you more…zoos and caged animals are no more than prisons for our animal friends. I understand the conservancy aspect but why not support and assist animals in their own habitat?

    1. Bug Woman

      This is why I like the approach of the Gerald Durrell conservancy in Jersey – they have been extremely successful in releasing endangered animals back into their native habitats, and in helping the people in places like Madagascar and Mauritius to protect their wildlife. Most of the time, though, it’s lip-service….

    2. Bronchitikat

      There are various projects aimed at keeping habitats and thus supporting the animals which live therein. But in many places poverty, war, and now climate change, are making the maintaining of an environment difficult. Particularly war and the economics of plantation agriculture. Look at the mountain gorillas in Uganda/Rwanda/Congo, or the Amazon rainforest and soya bean farming.

      1. Bug Woman

        Firstly, many apologies for your comment not appearing before – WordPress decided it was spam for some reason, so I didn’t spot it until I checked!

        It’s true that many habitats are endangered for all the reasons that you state, and I think there is a role for zoos in conservation – as cited before, the Gerald Durrell Zoo in Jersey works only with endangered species and has an excellent record in breeding, in releasing animals back into their environments, and in working with local people to help to preserve their habitats. I do feel that a lot of species in zoos shouldn’t be there, though – they are just there to draw in the crowds, and are often spectacularly unsuited to a zoo environment. The Jersey Zoo is the number one tourist atttraction there, showing that people don’t always need to see ‘charismatic megafauna’ like elephants and lions to visit a oo.

        Also, some animals, such as mountain gorillas and the indri of Madagascar, pine and die in captivity – for them, the only option is to preserve habitat.

        The key, for me, has to be in developing meaningful relationships with the people who live in these areas, who are often desperately poor.

  3. Lynn D. in Oregon

    Yes, I have conflicted feelings about zoos too. The Portland Zoo seems very well run and most of the animals seem fine. But there is one depressed gorilla who has been sitting in the same corner of her very nice habitat for years; she never interacts with her peers. I do think that zoos can inspire some people who would never think about wildlife otherwise. I am completely opposed to animals in circuses; however I’ve had two experiences with them that left me thrilled.

    We were wandering around the county fair and there was a small circus performing. We were just outside the big top when a lad walked by leading an elephant. The elephant took the moment when he was closest to us to take a giant piss. It’s quite an experience to get splashed by elephant pee.

    The main line of the train runs through our town. I was just about to cross the tracks when the gates went down. It was the Ringling Brothers zoo train heading south. There were house cars, cars carrying fancy motorcycles, the kitchen and dining car, equipment cars all gaily decorated with circus logos and drawings. Then of course there were the cars carrying the animals. The train was going quite slowly; the lion car went by and the lion stared directly into my eyes. I was happy to see the nuts and bolts of circus life. I may not approve, but I gained a lot of respect for the work of putting on a circus.

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Lynn, yes, I remember as a child seeing the Big Top and all the lorries and the hard work. But, like you I’m sure, I’m glad that here in the Uk at least there are no more lions or elephants being dragged around from one place to another for their whole lives. I remember crying because the elephants were dressed in skirts and looked so unhappy and undignified. I love that organisations like Cirque du Soleil are keeping the magic of the circus without the cruelty….

  4. Pingback: Where Have All The Sparrows Gone? | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

  5. Pingback: Bugwoman on Location – Regent’s Park, London | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

Leave a Reply