Recently I visited the Phoenix Zoo. I used to love zoos. After keeping a few pet snakes over the years, I learned that I don't actually enjoy keeping an animal strictly for my own pleasure. I found myself wanting to give them increasingly elaborate environments that would mimic their real habitat. Through this process I realized my deeper desire to inhabit those places myself, and the pet was just my surrogate for that experience.
Back to the zoo, I was okay, if a little apprehensive, about the
exhibits, until I got to the orangutans. Their name means "forest person"
and rightly so. When I looked into the eyes of our fellow great ape, I was
immediately struck with an awareness of being looked back into, followed by deep
sorrow, then by nauseating regret. That realization of consciousness motivates
me, it's a part of my conscience, and changes the way I view the world.
Not wanting to debate the mission and effectiveness of the modern zoo, I'll just say that I was afforded the opportunity, ironically, to see myself through the eyes of a captive creature I might never have encountered otherwise.