Recently my fella received in the mail a free travel pass
for life! for 10 days, and so we decided to make use of this boon. The area it covers, the Västra Götaland region, is pretty large by European standards (I’ll not get started on Australian standards) and so we had many options to choose from.
On one day he went up to Lidköpping and had an enjoyable look around, and then last weekend we devised a plan to visit the coast near the Norwegian border and see either petroglyphs or standing stones, or possibly both. It was all a little tenuous without a car, as the problem with standing stones and petroglyphs is that they are either part of a stone in a fixed location, or they are a stone in a fixed location, and therefore they don’t move to more convenient locations. Generally convenient locations don’t include fields and backyards way out in the country. Despite these possible problems, we were determined to see something prehistoric.
As you may detect from my tone, there was another problem with this plan.
In a word: floods.
I feel as though I’ve been labouring a point these last few weeks when I mention the change of the seasons, but in case it hasn’t been made clear, we are now in autumn and it is both cold and rainy. It has been raining a lot. It has been raining even more up north, in the area of Västra Götaland that includes standing stones and petroglyphs.
After deciding on our prehistorical, coastal expedition, I happened to look at a local news site and found out that there was severe flooding in the towns we were considering visiting, and that in fact the train network in the whole area had been shut down until further notice.
At least we found out the night before.
So that expedition was put on hold, and after looking at maps, tourist sites and travel information we settled on a little place not too far away that boasted a zoo and pretty scenery. Which is how we found ourselves coming face to face with a number of distant relatives last weekend.
Borås zoo can be found, unsurprisingly, in Borås and includes, somewhat surprisingly, an African savannah. As we walked into the zoo, past the dinosaur sculptures and posters of lions, giraffes and zebras basking in sunlight, I wondered how they managed to create a comfortable environment for these animals this far north. I was soon to find out, at least partly.
Before we got to the savannah though, we were surprised by an enclosure full of
lawn ornaments flamingos, bobbing through a lake, flexing their wings and generally looking awkwardly elegant and pink. We then found the African Wild Dogs, a huge pack of them, some sitting under trees scratching, running around chirping or standing and watching us pass by. Ever since I did an assignement about them in primary school (featuring a diorama that I was rather proud of) I’ve been fond of them, and it was nice to see such a large group apparently socialising happily and enjoying more space than is provided at the zoo in my home town.
Next was the savannah, a large area enclosed by a stone wall and containing ostriches, zebras and antelopes, grazing or running around and looking unbothered by the cold.
A sign pointed to the elephant house, in which we found no elephants, but instead a rhino and a giraffe family. They were all in cement floored enclosures strewn with straw and with food hanging from the ceiling. My first thought was that I hope these are winter enclosures. They did have openings to outside areas, but the rhino at least seemed somehow frustrated, if it’s possible to anthropomorphise snorts and shuffling and blank stares. The giraffes seemed less bothered, but due to the bareness of the area I got the chance to make direct eye contact with two of them as I stood and watched them eating, and felt a bit like an intruder.
From the savannah we made a brief stop at the restaurant then continued on to the ape house. At the door we were greeted by tamarins, who looked like extremely curious and energetic old men. Further in there were displays about the damage of palm oil plantations, poaching and the effect of humans on animals and the environment. There were also many apes.
In one of the enclosures a group of macaques rolled, played and groomed up and down branches and through straw. In one corner a female with her baby clutching her stomach was grooming a larger male, and just behind them another macaque was running around with a canvas bag over it’s head. They all seemed very intent and social, as with the chimpanzees and in a nearby enclosure. There were four of them, who began grooming while we watched. One was on its own for a time, and then wandered over to get the attention of the smallest, youngest looking chimpanzee, who I assume was the female. After some convincing, she settled down with him and they continued grooming, while the others wandered around and sat restless poses that were difficult not to anthropomorphise.
A lonelier ape was the gibbon, one of whom was staring out through the glass, though I couldn’t tell what or who it was staring at.
Finally were the orangutans, who were either climbing their constructed tree, resting, or in one case nestling under a bag on the straw. Bored or tired, it was impossible to tell, but for the first time I felt that the Perth zoo was doing a better job with one of the enclosures, which allows more space and openness for the families of orangutans who live there.
From apes we moved on to big cats, where feeding was supposed to be taking place soon. First we found the tigers, two from Siberia, who were relaxing on a vantage point and pacing the enclosure. I was reminded of the long stare from the tiger at Nordens Ark, and struggled to find an adjective for them that didn’t stray to the grandiose side of magnificent.
The feeding was taking place at the lion enclosure, where an entire pride was impatiently strolling around, alternately watching the gathering crowd and the cliff tops above their home. Soon food was dropped and despite there being plenty to go around, other than the mother and cubs, they didn’t seem very big on sharing. The male lion in particular made a point of roaring and grabbing whatever he could threaten away from the lionesses, and then settling down to enthusiastically gnaw, watched by those who had managed to keep their piece or who were waiting for scraps. I felt quite glad that I wasn’t in there with them, as the sight of hungry lions and the particular harmonic of their roars awakened an ancient instinct in me to run.
From lions we made our way to the wolves, and I got to see them clearly for the first time in my life. I had briefly seen one at Nordens Ark, but these loped around in the open, eating and hiding hunks of meat, and paying no attention to the humans watching from across the stream and fence. Despite the long history between humans and wolves, I felt no particular fear of them, just recognition of an animal that I have long wanted to see and that is so tied up in the culture of my ancestors. From Fenrir to guide-dogs, wolves and their descendants are part of our culture, and though I wouldn’t like to meet a pack on equal footing in the wild, I was glad to see a few in their close-to-natural environment and I hope to see more some day.
The last really wild and fearsome creatures we saw were the brown bears. They were huge, furry bundles that lolloped and rolled around, and still managed to seem powerfully frightening. While we watched a zoo keeper dropped perfumed pine cones into the enclosure, and soon the bears were rolling all over them, rubbing their faces into the scent that even we could smell from a few metres above with every sign of enjoyment. It’s something they do in between feeding to keep the bears occupied, as they’re fascinated by new smells.
We left the bears to their fun and walked on to find the elk, looking very much a part of their environment, and then the farm animal section.
A rather majestic pony greeted us and posed for a few photos, and then made way for a tiny pig (in Swedish, ‘minigris’, which literally means ‘mini-pig’), who squealed and snorted and didn’t seem very happy to be separated from the other tiny pigs in the neighbouring enclosure. My partner chatted to it a bit (he’s very good with pigs), and then we headed for the exit.
From the zoo we headed into Borås, and wandered around for a few hours.
The town hall and cathedral were very picturesque, and the parks around the canal must be very pleasant in sunnier weather, so we decided we’d better come back next year.
We were also treated to preparations for the end of a soccer game. This involved at least 3 police cars full of officers, a herd of mounted police and numerous others on the ground, watching various pubs and monitoring the main square. As we were heading back to the train station, the sound of chanting filled the air and a mob of about 150 people marched past, led and followed by police. I’m not sure where they ended up, or even who played, but it seems that the very thought of a riot is not to be considered in Sweden.
Dinner at a sports bar included yet more soccer fans, after which we took the long bus ride home and had an early night.
As I sit a few days later and think about the zoo, I wonder whether it’s fair to compare it to Nordens Ark. It has a different goal and a different theme, and it is ambitious to base a savannah in northern Europe. I couldn’t help feeling for the animals in their winter enclosures and cement floored homes, though. I’ll be living bound in by winter soon too, but at least I have the key to the door and I can ask why.