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How Zoos Are Telling Us Where The World Is Going

Zoos are about more than just animals.

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic- My wife mentioned that we went to the Prague zoo for the first time in 2010. I freaked out.

I had no recollection of it. I tried piecing together my travel paths — which I can’t even do anymore. I became agitated. Did I really forget an entire trip to Prague?

I guess I need to blog more.

It turned out that she screwed up the year. It was actually 2016 — the year where I dragged my family across Eastern Europe on the trail of the New Silk Road.

But I do need to blog more. I have so much stuff rattling around inside my head that I forget a lot of what I do. I live in two different realms: the writing/film world and my personal world. The former tends to take precedent. I need to write down more of what I do. I would probably like to go back and read it.


“I‘m going to go to the zoo, drink a beer, and look at some f’cking animals,” thus spake my wife.

It sounded like fun. I said I’d come too. We planned to go the afternoon of the first part of her final examination. She’s been training for her AMI Montessori certification this past year. It’s the real Montessori — not that crap they peddle as Montessori in Asia — and it’s likewise intense. Think “cult” here and you’d be on the right track. She just submitted a two-foot stack of written work (no exaggeration) and began the first of a three part final exam.

She knew she’d be freaking out after she took the first part of the exam, so animals and beer would be used as a diversion.

So we went to the zoo. We played around. My wife and I drank a (1) beer each. If she drinks more than one she grows horns and skewers me. The only horned thing I wanted to see on this day were antelopes, so we took it easy.

I think I just go to zoos to walk around in the sun and look at maps. I don’t think I give two shits about the animals — once you’ve seen 87 polar bears you’ve seen them all. I do like walking around in the sun drinking beer though.

I also like looking at the maps in front of the animal enclosures that indicate where in the world they’re from. I look at thos maps and I think, “Shit, I’ve been to 89 countries but there’s still so much of the world I haven’t been to yet.” I guess I need to stop sitting around in sidewalk cafes in summertime cities blogging and get back out there. My work in big media has kind of tied me to big cities. I’m going to try to rearrange things to buck this trend.

… says the guy who’s in the process of setting up a base of operations in Brooklyn.

Back to animals.

Prague zoo is … exceptional (ha ha). It’s built on a series of hills, takes more than a day to walk through, and has enclosures and exhibits that seem more set up for the animal than visitor — nature-y to point that they make a traveler reminisce about the real thing … sort of.

Cities of the world are all in competition with each other — way more than countries. It’s the cities that are competing for talent, and many have figured something out: the successful, high-value people they seek tend to have families and the companies and jobs themselves isn’t really enough to get the torrents of educated, moneyied, beet burger eating people they’re after. They need to recruit the families. They do this by investing in schools and awesome infrastructure for kids.

Look at Singapore if you don’t believe me.


So the zoo is a badge of pride for a city. It’s one of those poster projects that say: hey, this is a cool place to live. There’s shit to do here. We have animals! While correlation of course doesn’t automatically equate to causation, look at the cities that are currently very successful at attracting high-value talent. Now look at their zoos. They often match.

When a city leaps upon the global stage, they monumentalize the occasion with a zoo. This is something that goes back to the days of ancient Rome.

(Of course you could counter this by mentioning the additional boost in tax dollars that high-value people being in, but it’s cyclical — one element feeds the other, and high-value people are not prone to moving some shit hole that don’t even have a world class zoo.)

Zoos are even a criteria for where my vagabond, definitely-not-high-value family sets up bases of operation. We pitch a destination and the next question is almost invariably but what is the zoo like? I don’t know how many times my wife has gone over the fact that each borough of NYC has its own zoo with my kids … that the Bronx zoo is the best and Alex lives in Central Park zoo. The zoos were a major factor in on-boarding my kids to the NYC pitch … and this is something that clever mayors and urban designers don’t miss.

If you want to look at where the world is trending, look at the zoos.


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Filed under: Animals, Czech Republic, Urbanization

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

1 comment… add one

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  • Trav June 13, 2019, 9:42 pm

    Never really thought of zoos like this.

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