I am not a fan of zoological gardens or displays, generally, as I oftentimes find the ‘zoo experience’ sickening, of watching oblivious people ogle and disturb animals that are visibly distressed or in poor health. It is revolting, as I am of the conviction that animals (even ‘simple’ ones, such as fishes) are more intelligent than we narcissistic humans give them credit for, making it an abomination to keep animals in the poor and overcrowded conditions that most animal displays are guilty of.
When I visited Kew gardens with my sister last year, we found, quite surprisingly, that the Palm House was home to more than just palm trees and tropical plants, there being a marine display under the Palm House floor.
The display contained only a few tanks but they were of an exceptional standard. Having visited the London Sea Life Aquarium only days previously, the contrast was especially stark. While the London Aquarium displays were tacky and the animals visibly stressed, the marine life in the marine display at Kew was healthy.
Having kept fish myself for many years, it was a joy to see these large and happy animals — which also serves as testament to the overall commitment of the staff at Kew Gardens. (If nothing else, it shows that people who are good with plants are good with living things overall.) The platyfish, for example, which they kept in one of the tanks were joyfully large –large enough to suggest they have lived for several years in good conditions — in stark contrast to the small and sickly guppyfish at London Sea Life.
Sailor’s Eyeball Algae, one of the world’s largest single-celled organisms. Also note the little crabs hiding among them!
One of the tanks contained an ingenious display of mudskippers. The display was at the appropriate level for a small child to study these land-lubbing fishes, but as an adult I really enjoyed looking down on the layout to see it in its entirety. This was true for all the displays: they were creatively designed, approachable and displayed the animals in a very attractive manner without infringing on their natural way of life. Unfortunately, a good display with happy animals is quite hard to photograph as the residents are hiding (rather than being forced to show themselves). I didn’t at all mind, however — as there is more to enjoying an experience than just taking pictures. And, similarly, a few of the other tanks were overgrown with algae and sea grass, but fact is that I would rather see an overgrown tank (where the invisible residents are, presumably, very happy), than an overcrowded tank full of unhealthy and stressed animals!