Less of a Zoo, More of a Haven. The Five Sisters Zoo


All photographs contained within this post are taken by and copyrighted by me and are not to be shared without my permission.


If you follow me on my social channels, you may already know that I’m no longer going to be keeping quiet about one of the most important issues to me – animal welfare – for the sake of blog continuity.


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Animal welfare is right up there with promoting positive body image to the masses for me. It’s written in my heart and runs passionately through my blood. Before I started studying Digital Media at University, it was my goal to become a Veterinary Nurse. I’ve always been (and always will be) an animal person. Just like I will never be able to understand those who intentionally harm or cause them any suffering. I could go on and on and on about how much the thought pains me but instead, I’ll keep my head in a happy place and tell you about a Zoo that makes me exceptionally joyful.


Being such an animal lover, Zoo’s often infuriate me. Inhabitants are in some (not all) instances mistreated, kept in tiny “enclosures” with virtually no stimulation, given no way to carry out their natural behaviours and have very little escape from the intense stare of the all important paying customers. In most cases, it feels like Zoo’s and the like’s only real interest and loyalty comes in the form of humans who bring in the money other than the creatures who are unfortunately dependent on their care.


Edinburgh Zoo is a prime example of this in my opinion. Although they carry out preservation work which is obviously wonderful, the Zoo itself is very much marketed as a tourist attraction. This results in the animals themselves who should of course be the primary focus of attention, ending up with standards of care and subsequently levels of happiness far lower than they should be. I haven’t been to Edinburgh Zoo in several years because of the reasons outlined above. The only memories I really have of the place are of animals in inadequate enclosures who look almost demented and undoubtedly depressed. This is simply not good enough and is the main reason why I avoid this and most other Zoo’s and the like.


The Five Sisters Zoo however, is different. As far as I know, every animal that this family owned and run Zoo house has been rescued from a horrible situation. Like their latest addition, the magnificent ex-circus lions who they raised over £150,000 to rescue from disgusting circumstances.

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And the beautiful elderly brown bears who the Zoo raised £80,000 from a life of misery in Belgium in 2012.

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This is the only place where I can see animals essentially behind bars and not feel desperately sad. I have been too many times to count now. Every time I’ve visited, the dedication and genuine love for the job has radiated from each and every keeper. And it really shows in the animals’ faces.


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Each enclosure appears to be carefully thought out, really attempting to replicate to the animal’s natural habitat and actively encouraging their natural behaviours. Admittedly, some could be bigger. But I believe that there is still a huge amount of renovation work being carried out, especially after the heartbreaking fatal fire of 2013 which completely destroyed the reptile house and claimed the lives of 80 animals. As such, I have no doubt that the enclosures which are on the smaller side will be improved in the near future.


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During my latest visit, upon seeing how much work has been carried out since my last visit in March 2015, it really struck me how ill-fitting the title of ‘Zoo’ is for this place. It’s more like a haven. A place of solace for abused and neglected animals. It’s not centred around the shallow satisfaction of humans, but instead with the welfare and care of those they house. And that’s exactly how it should be. This is a place where animals can feel safe and live out the rest of their days without fear of mistreatment or even torture. And I for one support them, every step of the way.


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As stated on their website, modern day zoos have a responsibility to carry out a number of important roles. Education, Recreation, Research and Conservation are at the forefront of The Five Sisters Zoo’s mission. It is part of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA) which helps to coordinate breeding programmes, keep standards high and raise awareness of conservation issues through educational interpretation and presentations. They state that research is one of their primary objectives and are dedicated to encouraging and supporting research that improves captive animal management and benefits the conservation of animals. The Zoo encourages students to undertake non-invasive animal-based research, looking at areas including animal behaviour, environmental enrichment and nutrition, as well as visitor studies. So all in all, they’re a pretty damn wonderful thing.


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Of course, in an ideal world, Zoo’s would not exist. Animals would be in their natural habitat where they truly belong and would be as far away from humanity as physically possible. But as long as people who want to keep animals for financial gain exist, places like The Five Sisters will also exist, seeking to take these creatures out of these situations and allow them to live a life that they deserve – being respected, cared for and loved.


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THE FIVE SISTERS ZOO

http://www.fivesisterszoo.co.uk/ 

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About Leyah Shanks

Positive body image activist and advocate for mental health.

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