A Field Trip to the Toronto Zoo


What are these children looking at?

Yes, a tiger! The symbol of power, beauty, and independence. One of the fastest runners on our earth. But an endangered animal which only about 3000 of them are left in the world. I looked at his eyes and I felt a shiver. They told me to respect, to not forget who he is, or perhaps who he was… I remember how much my brother as a young boy loved them, how he knew everything about them, how their pictures were covered the wall of his bedroom … but he never saw one so close when he was a child … he read about them in books, he saw their pictures, and sometimes documentaries about them, in black-white … but he imagined them as wild, brave, and beautiful. In his fantasy they were not for  entertaining humans or raising their pity. Tigers were on our earth to be admired, to be dared to be one, and to hope never face one in a dark jungle …

But today, he’s in a cage in the Toronto Zoo right under the feet of these children. I wonder what they learn about him when seeing him so quiet, so bored, so under control, so inactive, …. To me, he’s just an illusion of what a free tiger is or should be …. What if the image that these children are building today is emphasized by the images that the Disney cartoons are building for them: images of funny, silly, pet-like and humanized tigers?

In my romanticized image of a tiger, I wish Rauz and these children would have never seen him so poor, disengaged, normalized, so un-tiger.

I wonder who is protecting who? Are we really worried about their endangered species? Or are we worried how our earth would be without them? What could then be the symbol of power, beauty, and speed for us? Who or what is replacing them?

Symbolic Experiences With Nature

Is nature irrelevant or less visible in our modern city life style?

The answer seems to be no. Look at the materials we choose to use, the designs and decorations of our spaces and clothes, and our recreational choices. Nature seems to dominate many of them. We love and pay a lot of money to buy natural stones such as diamonds. We decorate our offices by real or fake flowers and plants. We choose to spend our vacations by blue oceans. But, do we experience nature in the same way in all of these choices?

Some of us are trained to understand the differences only if they are put into categories. So let’s try to categorize our different experiences with nature. Here’s one …

Symbolic experiences:

Look at the picture of my daughter reading the Disney version of the story of Cinderella while feeding her toy teddy bear. She is experiencing the symbolic images and representations of nature. The story of Cinderella is full of animals (birds, mice, horses, dogs) that can talk and play the roles of very important characters in the story. Her book is decorated by pictures of the beautiful green landscapes and gardens of the palace of the king. And it is even more interesting to see that she manages to feed a polar bear! Of course a toy one. Here, she experiences nature but symbolically.

Symbolic experiences with nature are not new. They have historical roots in fables, myths, and totems over the long route of human evolution. These experiences are crucial.

What else can you think of as children’ symbolic experiences with nature? What do children learn through these experiences? In what ways is this kind of learning important? In what ways can it mis-lead children?