The morning after the Friday terrorist attacks in Bamako, Mali I took my son to the little zoo for the last time. It was not bittersweet, only bitter; I knew everything was about to change – for myself and my family, because they had tried to kill us (perhaps not by name, but certainly by profile) – but more importantly, for that little zoo. Hard times were coming. That zoo had been for me and my little boy an oasis in a barren wasteland. I usually am not a fan of zoos – of the animal kind, or of the human kind either, like Cuba – but this one was run by the Aga Khan’s development fund and was a refuge, because we all knew how long those animals would last if they were released back in to the Malian wild. That final time, while the city was still on lockdown, I drove the silent streets, paid my dollar fee and walked the stairs. “Look, a hyena!” and “It’s an alligator”, words I’d said a thousand times before to the grins of my boy. We walked through the aviary, the Ugandan Crested Crane staring at us as he always had – unaware that things were about to change.
I often think of that little zoo. It was probably never going to be sustainable – what would happen when the Aga Khan stopped his support? Now that the diplomats have fled, the tourists have dried up, and the businessmen stay away – thinking only of blood running down the steps of the Radisson Blu – now what will happen? Who knows.
Fast-forward a few years in time – tucked away in a Caucasian capital; a petting zoo in a mall, little monkeys taken from Central America, Macaws from the Amazon and foxes from the Sahara kept underground away from the frigid snows, not sad really – not any sadder than any other small town zoo – but still a prison for animals that should be free. My little boy didn’t notice; he’s not yet old enough to fully grasp the morality of liberty and what that means for the animals. Besides, these are not the only caged beasts he’d seen. Dubai, only last summer, Green Planet – the fabulously wealthy Emiratis took back from the barren sands a piece of land, importing thousands of birds and bats and piranhas in their jungle aquariums; a fifteen story building, encased in glass, flowing water and budding flowers and the chirps of exotic birds not heard in that sandy place since it too was a vast forest eons ago. And what is the difference; a cage is a cage, right? Sure the sloth – brought from Brazil – had his own caregiver; an American graduate of zoology from some western school balancing the creature’s meals perfectly, combing out the tics and flees until the coat shone bright in the Arabian sun. Why didn’t Green Planet bother me, like the underground mall-cages where the foxes slept? The answer, I suppose, is money. The same reason that Bamako Zoo gave me a sense of refuge, not imprisonment. Because oddly enough these two places – so far apart geographically but also as it relates to the human experience – were a reflection of infinite, immeasurable, limitless wealth.
Of course none of these places can even compare with the greatest culprit of all, Venezuela and their socialist ecocide. A post-apocalyptic zoo in a country lush and green with rivers and jungles and forests, the only thing keeping the animals from running free and making their lives – like the hippos of Pablo Escobar that bathe in the mysterious Orinoco – is the iron fencing through which the starving lions can see their paradise. But as in all things socialist, those in charge seek control, power, dominion; and who cares if they cannot responsibly exercise it, that is not the point, is it? They say the right things, their motivations are more moral, and their intentions need not answer to the emaciated lions. And after having brought even that once-lovely Caracas Zoo under their wicked economic model (“free” they like to call it) they proceeded to mismanage it out of carelessness while the noble creatures starved. And in the jungles beyond…? – trees felled, arsenic poured out in the rapacious search for gold by the gangs who raise their clenched fists high humming all the while The Internationale in the eternal salute to the brotherhood of slavery. Yes, socialism is by far the greatest environmental aggressor.
Environmentalism is for the wealthy. This is what I have learned. The poor have other things to think about, to consider, to fear and fight for. They poison the lions for encroaching on their $25 goat farms. They kill the elephants to smuggle the ivory in to China (for communism too respects no law). They take the bed-nets distributed by mangy do-gooders from the west and fish out the sterile lakes, frying the tiny minnows in charity vegetable oil before packing their worldly possessions into plastic buckets and carrying them on their heads to the nearest displaced camps (I wrote my greatest novel about this – a more significant act of creation than Hemingway and met with a collective yawn, for I am not of the right profile nor do I have the right message to become a darling of the socialist elite, which is needed today to make it in the arts).
Not even the middle class can save our bedraggled planet. Case in point; I would love to purchase a massive track of land in Costa Rica, and buy back all the little monkeys I saw today to send them to live in a pristine private paradise for my own satisfaction. I would revel in buying ranchland in northern Arizona where the bison could again lock horns with the elk under the great storied western skies. I would return the little foxes to their homes in the Sahara and create a formidable army of Tuareg Rangers to look after them in their Maghrebian wonderland. I would do all this, but I am hopelessly, tiresomely, futilely middle class. Making the occasional donation to Audubon Society while the wild areas of the world shrink away for want of those to care for them.
Yes, environmentalism is for the wealthy. Jeff Bezos (who recently gave $10 billion for ‘climate change’; money that will slip away like sand through the fingers of radical NGOs and fruitless climate summits); he might change things – should he purchase a rainforest and police it with Tuareg Rangers. Or captivate the imagination of the wealthiest of all empires, harnessing their entrepreneurial spirit to see an end to the internal combustion engine and the plastics proliferation through venture capital which will create more, greener wealth. The Green New Deal people, however – should they be allowed – will bring poverty and with it the annihilation America’s great reforested green spaces. And there is no Aga Khan for America’s prairie bison.
These are the things I have learned – though nobody listens anymore, to anything. So I just dream – would that I were wealthy, and could buy a forest in Costa Rica. Then I would save the little monkeys that today entertained my little boy, but only brought me sadness.