Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Sept 2007  updates Nov 2012 & 2015, Apr 2016, July 2023        

he Naples Zoo—
with links to updates

If you don't like zoos, I understand. The animals in zoo posters all look —well, not too unhappy about being in prison. The giraffes look sufficiently goofy, the tigers still look proud and menacing, and the elephants seem unperturbed. In real life, however, I still have to be convinced that wild animals should be contained in anything less than one of those wild animal safari parks, where there is at least the illusion of open space. If I hear that well-maintained zoos are one of the ways in which we help endangered species survive, then I guess I have to accept that. Grudgingly. And so I accept the newly reopened Naples zoo for what it seems to be: relatively small but well-designed and properly maintained.

he recent history of the zoo in Naples has been a disaster. It was founded in 1940 on the premises of the gigantic Mostra d'oltremare—Overseas Fair Grounds—in the Fuorigrotta section of Naples, though it didn't begin regular operation until after WWII. Over the next few decades, it acquired some sort of a reputation as a decent zoological facility, or so they tell me, but the first time I visited it (in the 1970s) I didn't like it. As I say, some people don't like zoos at all. I never went back. In the 1990s, the zoo, financed and run by the city, started to decline badly. By 2002, animals were suffering (and dying) from neglect. Volunteers and unpaid staffers struggled to keep it open.  (Private citizens were going to butcher shops, buying whatever they figured a lion might like and carrying it over to the zoo!) It was closed in 2003. I remember how good I felt for the animals that they were being shipped out to facilities elsewhere.

The zoo has reopened recently under the private management of the owners of the adjacent amusement park, Edenlandia, so I took my second visit to the place the other day. The literature for the zoo guarantees that the animals are properly cared for, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on that score. I didn't visit the whole place, but I saw a well-landscaped facility, an elephant, a few tigers, a camel, some flamingos, and even a small farm-animal petting enclosure for children. (The children liked it and the goats didn't seem to mind.) There was even a row of smaller cages ("The way they used to pen up animals in zoos") for exhibit purposes only. (Maybe those are the ones I remember.) The new enclosures are much larger. If private management can make it a going concern and fulfill the plans to expand into the currently unused spaces of the east end of the Fair Grounds, then I'm satisfied. Not happy, but satisfied. There is still something not right about a tiger in a cage. The elephant I saw was leisurely tossing dust on herself (but, alas); the camel was just staring at the starers; but the tigers were pacing. That's what they do. Pace.

                updates, Nov 2012, Nov 2015 & Apr
2016, & July 2023 (directly below)
    Sweet and Cuddly

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, also known as the IUCN Red List or Red Data Book, is an inventory of the global conservation status and extinction risk of biological species. Series of such list are produced by other organization; the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has a well-known one; their criteria are similar. This IUCN list uses these ninw letter codes:
EX (extinct); EW (extinct in wild -i.e. survives ony in captivity); CR (critically endangered;
EN (endangered); VU (at high risk of unnatural (human-caused) extinction;

(near threatened, close to being endangered in the near future; LC (least concern) unlikely to become endangered or extinct in the near future; DD (data deficient...Duuuuh!); NE (not evaluated).

We are concerned here with one NT species because of a "blessed event" at the Naples zoo. (Spoiler: yes, it's just like Disney's beloved "Birth of Dumbo"!) I speak of the birth of a black jaguar (sometimes called a black panther, classed as a panthera onca with melanistic variant, which makes it black. The Naples zoo has the only breeding pair of jaguars in all of Italy. The only one! It seems strange to me that they class it only NT.
   The species is an American import; nowhere in Europe do panthers exist in the wild. The American jaguar is the third largest feline in the world, behind lions and tigers. It's similar to the African cheetah, the fastest land animal in the world (similar, in that they are both "very pretty". Sorry for the taxonomic jargon, but I channeled Charles Darwin, and that's the term he used).  (There are 37 species of "cat" in the world, native to everywhere but Antarctica and Australia. The papers are calling the wee one a "cucciolo" (cub). We do say lion cub, so I guess "cub" is ok. Social media are all a-twitter. The zoo directors have named the animal "Victor" to honor Victor Osimhen, who has something or other to do with soccer, supposedly a human sport. There is no word from our cub's parents how they feel about the name, but one zoo director is missing.

In its natural central and South American habitat (if nature still exists), our cub will wax in hunger and in stature and one day will be a "stalk-and-ambush apex predator". Its distinctively marked coat features pale yellow to tan colored fur covered by spots that transition to rosettes on the sides, although a melanistic black coat appears in some. The jaguar's powerful bite allows it to pierce the shells of turtles and tortoises, and to use an unusual killing method: it bites directly through the skull of mammalian prey between the ears to deliver a fatal blow to the brain. A ruthless, carnivorous killer. If you are a jaguar, no one messes with you. You mess with them. Right now, Victor, is just sweet and cuddly. "Here, kitty!"

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