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In January 2021, amateur investors took on billion-dollar hedge funds, only to discover that the rules of capitalism don’t apply to the rich. And while GameStop’s value evaporates, it feels to me that so do many of the year’s hopeful expectations. I’ve had three, four separate meetings where the end of C was beginning to come too late.
Then, on Thursday, the Amsterdam zoo Artis announced it has to let go of its lions. Over the year 2020, their Covid deficit was 20 million euros. I love Artis. I’ve been over a hundred times in the last 6 years with my boys. If you can spare some of your GameStop earnings, consider making a small donation.
I will write about Artis this week, or Natura Artis Magistra, the zoo’s full name. Nature is the teacher of the arts. It has been since 1838 when the zoo was opened. One year later, in 1839, the first lions came to Artis. The current home of the lions opened in 1927. It is not up to any standard of animal welfare. Construction on a new house would have begun this year, but the funds are simply not there. Instead, the lions will move to France together. I’m glad for them.
Anyone who has ever been to Artis knows it is a tiny zoo, the size of five or six city blocks. It has the feel of an inner-city park, and on a slow Monday morning, that’s precisely how most visitors use it. People wander through the park, leisurely pushing their strollers. Hardly anyone bothers the animals, and the animals return the favor.
Animals are not the first thing you see when you enter Artis. Many a time, upon entering through the main gate, what jumps out at you are the beautiful gardens. Artis is a botanical garden. The gardens also grow food for the animals. They change with the season and have gotten much more ‘biodiverse’ in recent years.
Vegetables are not the only thing Artis ‘grows’ for consumption by its animals. When J was younger, our first stop, without exception, was the petting zoo. One season, we grew quite attached to the calf that was getting a bit bigger with each visit. Most of the animals in the petting zoo were there every visit, year after year. Last season’s calf, however, didn’t return in spring. So, I decided to ask where this new calf was headed. “Do you really want to know?” the caretaker asked.
On another visit, they were feeding the vultures. It was elevenish on a school day, so the only audience was a troupe of three-year-olds. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a vulture eat a rabbit. It’s not a peaceful sight. The kids loved it. Ever since J has called vultures ‘the big geese that eat rabbits.’
Artis is so picture-perfect, it is easy to think of the park and its animals as sedate. In recent years, they’ve created new animal enclosures that are fully open to the public. Apart from the petting zoo’s pigs and goats, you can walk among the lemurs and wallaby. The elephants’ house’s smart design allows you to be eye-to-eye with them, seemingly without barriers.
A 2017 video of the lions shattered the sedate image. The many signs warning for sharp teeth and beaks are right; the animals can still hunt.
R, our second son, learned the same lesson the hard way. While visits to the zoo with J had always been more of an intellectual affair, with detailed questions about everything, the zoo is a more physical experience for R. On our last pre-Covid visit, he managed to get bitten by a jackdaw, a duck, and a meerkat. Ever since he hates birds.
As should be apparent by now, Artis is much more than a zoo. It is an open-air museum full of statues and excerpts from famous poems set in the zoo. The park is an official botanical garden. There is a planetarium (which I’ve never been to). A few years ago, they opened the world’s first zoo for microbes, Micropia, which is a great experience. Regularly, there are art exhibitions in Artis. And of course, there are playgrounds and the restaurants, and bars get better every year.
In 2013, Artis celebrated its 175th anniversary with the slogan ‘175 years a people garden’ (the word for a zoo in Dutch, dierentuin, means animal garden). In the off-peak hours that most members visit the zoo, it is the other people that are its best story. Elderly couples that know all the animals by name and are happy to explain their individual behavior. Kids you bump into every week at the same time. The zookeepers go the extra mile to chat not just about their work but the world.
When Artis briefly reopened after the first lockdown, we booked tickets for the first weekend. I vividly remember the excitement among the people that could finally revisit their zoo. It is my zoo as well.
We used to live 10-minutes from Artis on bike. Now it’s about 30 minutes. Soon, R will go to primary school. We will not be able to visit during the slow, quiet hours any longer. And with Covid far from over, I doubt how often we will visit before this happens. There will be a new generation of kids visiting, of course, and I really hope we can make sure that their visits will be as good as ours.
Thanks for joining me on this tour through my favorite zoo. I hope you’re doing well. This week, I could have also written about one of the most sustainable schools in Holland, our new podcast series, transitions, and lots of other things. Next week! Until then, take care!