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By Ana Cecilia Oliveira
The Brasilia Zoo may have been forgotten by most Brasilia residents—those without small children in the family, at least—or written off as a decrepit childhood remnant, but it is still a vibrant place! Out of curiosity as to how the zoo had changed in the ten years we hadn’t been there, my family decided to visit last Friday (29). What we found is a place full of helpful volunteers and exquisite animals.
One of the first animals we came across was the zoo’s newest resident, a spectacled bear! Nei, an eight-year-old male, arrived in Brasilia on September 9, having come all the way from the Rio Grande do Sul Zoological Park. He is the zoo’s first bear of this species since it opened its doors in 1957.
The spectacled bear gets its name from the distinctive markings around its eyes, which resemble eyeglasses. It is the only bear species native to South America, and there are two zoos in Brazil with breeding pairs of the species. The zoo in Rio Grande do Sul is one of them, and Nei comes from that lineage. His arrival is part of an exchange between the two zoos; in return, our local zoo sent a male maned wolf.
According to a zoo employee I interviewed, the zoo’s next move will be two acquire two adult females in an attempt to start breeding them. The spectacled bear is an endangered species, and there has recently been a movement in South America zoos to create more breeding pairs and protect the animals’ genetic diversity. The same employee said the zoo is negotiating with other zoos in Bolivia for female spectacled bears.
When I visited him, Nei was pacing his 800-square-meter enclosure and occasionally playing with his water tank. “You’re lucky to catch him awake!” a zoo volunteer told me, “Spectacled bears are nocturnal, and he usually sleeps during the day. This is unusual behavior for him.”
It seemed to be a very auspicious day all-around, since we were also able to see a black panther and Pantanal jaguar playing, two cougars sunbathing, and two very friendly elephants who came over to the edge of the paddock to say hi.
In addition to the animals in enclosures, all sorts of others roam freely around the zoo: small micos navigate the fences between enclosures; dozens of wildcats move in and out of the paddocks. Even capybaras can be found relaxing with the giraffes and walking through the grounds! “They [the capybaras] like the popcorn,” a vendor told me, laughing at the capybara that approached him hopefully, “That’s why they come!”
The Brasilia Zoo also boasts an enclosed butterfly garden, where butterflies of 14 different species flutter freely, often landing on unsuspecting visitors. As I was entering, a man was kept from leaving because there were three butterflies on his baseball cap that had to be removed! Visiting the butterfly garden is also an educative experience, since it is staffed by friendly volunteers who are more than willing to answer questions.
“Most of us are studying biology in college and know a lot about butterflies!” Sarah, a volunteer, told me. She also explained that, contrary to popular belief, butterflies don’t live solely off of nectar from flowers. Many species feed off of decomposing animal carcasses or rotting fruit. This is why, in some cultures, butterflies are a symbol of death. According to Sarah, you can also tell the age of a butterfly by looking at its wings: older butterflies have wings that are more worn or even deformed, missing pieces due to wear and collisions.
“Some of these animals were rescued from the wild, but we can never return them because they’ve become too used to humans,” said a volunteer in the deer area. This is the case with one of the zoo’s red deer, who is blind. After spending years in the zoo, these animals lose their fear of humans and the defense mechanisms developed to survive in nature. This is why many came to greet us when we came close to the enclosure’s fence, instead of fleeing and hiding.
I may have been skeptical about the zoo’s entertainment value when I first arrived, but I learned a lot from its knowledgeable volunteers and the animals I was able to see. The atmosphere is enjoyable, since the grounds are full of wildlife, trees, and small lakes. Friendly volunteers and guards are scattered around the entire perimeter, making it an enjoyable and informative experience for people of all ages, not just families with young children!
As a general tip: do not visit the zoo from the hours of late morning to early afternoon. These are very sunny times so that the animals aren’t likely to come out, and also peak times when the zoo is packed with people—especially on weekends! But, if you are new to Brasilia or haven’t visited in a while, it is a worthwhile trip on a cloudier afternoon or early morning!
By Marina Alves
What’s the most interesting place you have ever lived in?
Japan because I went there when I was very young, I had just graduated university and it was a) an escape from my life b) it was just so different. It was fascinating because you could either master Japan or Japan mastered you. It was that kind of place; it either broke you and you went home hating it or you figured it out and stayed and loved it.
Japan was kind of my grown up test: (…) repackaging and representing of myself. And that’s why I moved so far away from home because you go far away and you can change it all. And the most interesting thing was very internal for me. People didn’t know me, people didn’t know my background or my traditions and suddenly I could just change everything. I could be whoever I decided to design myself to be. And it was interesting to see how far I could push that. And I pushed it pretty far.
What was your most interesting experience?
Repackaging and representing of myself. And that’s why I moved so far away from home because you go far away and you can change it all. And the most interesting thing was very internal for me. People didn’t know me, people didn’t know my background or my traditions and suddenly I could just change everything. I could be whoever I decided to design myself to be. And it was interesting to see how far I could push that. And I pushed it pretty far. And that was fascinating like things that you know my old friends or my family would never believe I would do or try or say or be, I did most of them. And that was fascinating. It wasn’t just one experience, it was more internal.
What have you learned experiences?
Being true to yourself is not as easy as it sounds. It comes at a price and for a long time I was very accommodating to other people and what people expected from me. And I was always a very nice and sustaining young man. Then when I started to be otherwise, my reputation was “tarnished” so to speak. And I had to learn to live with that. I had to learn with people saying “oh you’re not as nice as you used to be,” those kinds of comments. Because I wasn’t.
Because once you sort of break free of certain things, then you just kind of say “well I’m going to do what I need to do for me” and that was liberating and lonely at the same time. And there were family members I didn’t speak to for a long time, and lots of other things because of that price. But I made peace with paying it.
So that for me was the most interesting, like to be the version of yourself that you’re trying to create is not free. And anyone who tells you that it is has not tried it because to do it means some amount of defiance- you’re going to defy somebody.
Parents, some old friends, I lost some friends because I think they’re small minded or they’re boring or they’re just not very engaged with their life. I realize sometimes when I visit them that we have nothing to talk about. Our worlds start to feel very small, it starts to feel like I’m bragging but I’m not bragging, I’m just talking about my life and their life is kind of static and mine is not. So we just stopped being friends and I used to feel bad about it but now I’m like I don’t dislike them… were just different. I think you can either have a really dynamic and interesting life or you can have a stable quiet life. And everything comes at a price. People always say “oh your life is so exciting” but I have to move every year and make new friends. I lose some stability and security and there’s a lot of issues with having a transient life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything… but it has some challenges.