cockfights, Holy crap

There is a Zoo in Addis Ababa

“So what’s worth seeing in Addis Ababa?”

I queried an expat couple joining us for dinner. Following four days in the coffee lands near Yirgalem, Ethiopia, I had a full day ahead to wander the streets of one of Africa’s busiest capital cities before my flight took off at 2 a.m. They mentioned the usuals, including the orthodox church where Haile Selassie was interned, the Lucy Museum and more, but my interest was captured when they mentioned the Addis Ababa Zoo.

“I mean, you should see the animals there. It’s like they’re barricaded in. They aren’t even really cages.”

Of course this caught my interest. They went on to explain how bad they felt, the sad state of the animals, including the monkey doing push-ups who seemed to be suffering from some kind of mental illness brought on by small confines and limited diversions.

My reaction to the zoo reminded me of the old ‘Shitty Soup’ sketch from the Kids in the Hall. If you haven’t seen it, please watch below and join me after the jump.

It’s an interesting tendency people have. The idea that if someone mentions something bad, gross, disgusting or otherwise unpleasant, it’s almost a challenge to experience for yourself. So I took the bait and on that next day, after spending some time at the Lucy Museum otherwise known as the National Museum of Ethiopia, I met up with my friend to head over to the zoo.

It was every bit as rough as they’d said. A Marabou Stork standing behind a cyclone wire fence shielded by a tin roof standing beside a stagnant pool of dingy water, a batch of monkeys running around a wired up and repaired cage, or the deer rummaging through trash thrown in by onlookers.

And then you get to the lions – those are the sounds you hear at the entry of this post. These animals, descendants of those that wandered the grounds of Haile Selassie’s court, probably had the best deal out of all of the animals. The cages weren’t spacious, but at least they could pace back and forth more than five body lengths. There were about six of them in separate cages that spun out like spokes from a central hub. Twice while we were there, one lion would roar and then the others in their cages would join in, never seeing each other, but communicating in their own special way.

It was strange to be in a country where almost all of these animals could be found in the wild, but these particular specimens were here boarded up in cells. As if they were being punished for some karmic transgression.

But the people around us seemed to enjoy it.

Please note: While reading up on this post, I found out that they are planning to build something a bit more substantial for the animals, but we’ll see. 


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