How much, I wonder, would it cost to buy about one million square miles of sub-Saharan Africa? The continent itself is about 11.67 million square miles, but I don’t need it all. I just want to build a zoo large enough to save most of the endangered African animals. By contrast, the US is about 3.8 million square miles and the entire world has about 57 million square miles worth of land. Even with a human population projected to reach 11 billion people by 2100, surely there has got to be some room for our favorite large animals. Let’s face it, most people don’t really care about all the tiny, little-known creatures that are threatened with extinction. But we do care about the big, scary ones. The ones we go to zoos to see. Lions and tigers and bears–er, elephants–oh my!
African real estate can’t be that expensive, especially considering how much food, medicine, and money we already send them just to keep the poorest of them alive. It’s a pretty crappy place for people to live anyway. It’s beautiful, but harsh. I suspect that central Africa would be available at a bargain price if someone were to make the right offer. The only condition would, of course, be that all humans would have to move out and stay out.
We could move the native African populations to where, as Sam Kinison would say, the food is. Why keep sinking our money into sustaining poor African countries that can’t manage to even feed themselves when we could pay to build them a new habitat someplace else where they could actually sustain themselves with a sufficient amount of food, water, medicine and shelter? Pay off a few dictators and we’d have a deal for the zoo of all zoos. Actually, let’s call it a wildlife reservation.
Let’s look at the African real estate and see if there are any bargains out there. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is smack in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa and probably a great place for wildlife. It is also one of the poorest nations. It has about 67.5 million people and a per capita GDP of $454 as of 2013. And it has been going down, not up, so I’m thinking it’s bargaining time. This comes to under $31 billion in GDP for over 900,000 square miles of space. That amount of space would do just fine for a wildlife reservation, and it’s chump change for the USA. We increase our national debt by more than that every two weeks.
I’d probably have to build some kind of wall around the reservation in anticipation of a rebound in the predator population and also, of course, to keep people out. About 50 years ago, there were about 450,000 lions, 700,000 leopards, 500,000 rhinos, and millions of elephants in Africa. Now, there are only about 20,000 lions, 50,000 leopards, 25,000 rhinos, and maybe 300,000 elephants left. They are still being slaughtered at rates that could easily drive them into extinction within the next decade or two.
So, here is my solution. Forget about zoos. Not only are they cruel prisons for animals, they are also boring. Who wants to go to the zoo only to, at best, get a glimpse of a lion sleeping in the grass or on a rock? Who wants to see a cheetah that can’t trot more than a few yards? This is the age of computers and global communications, so why not just scrap the whole idea of a zoo and provide a high-tech way to follow them into their natural habitat?
I know–we already have plenty of movies and documentaries featuring the animals of Africa. I do enjoy watching them, but this is not what I mean. How about a real, live, 4K super high definition, 3D feed from cameras and microphones, and maybe even odor sensors, in Africa watching, and maybe even following, them around. Throw in some infrared cameras for night viewing and we’ll have quite a show. We would use broadcast towers, self-driving jeeps with cameras, remotely piloted vehicles, or even balloons–whatever it takes. It would be the Greatest Show on Earth! Remind me to buy that trademark.
It would be kind of like the Hunger Games movie. No, exactly like the Hunger Games minus the people. Well, actually, I would consider including people if we find them trying to poach some of our protected wildlife. That would be a special pay per view event option for adult viewing only. To be fair, I would give them a knife to protect themselves, and maybe even a flak jacket, but obviously they would have to surrender their high-powered rifles.
Don’t give me that look, you know people would pay to see a guy get eaten by a lion or trampled by a rhino! The Romans did it for sport, but I would use it merely to discourage criminal activity within the zoo. Surely you can see the difference. It probably wouldn’t even be that frequent an event, but if it generates enough cash to help maintain the reservation, then it’s a win-win situation! I might even consider offering convicted prisoners on death row with a choice: survive for a month and you can go free. We would follow them around with drones and guys on the ground, of course, so it could be a new hit reality TV show. Move over Survivor Africa, here comes the new, improved, Survivor Africa! I have to remember to buy that trademark too. That show will certainly bring in millions of dollars in TV rights. Maybe there will even be action figures for the guys who actually survive. The abandoned human cities could even be used as film locations for disaster or alien invasion movies.
Eventually, the animal population would rebound and provide breathtaking viewing opportunities. We might even allow hunters into the park for special hunting events. No, they wouldn’t be allowed to use super long-range elephant guns. Just an old fashioned rifle and as much courage as they can muster. Maybe even guys like Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, will just want to go in with no weapons at all just for the hell of it! I guarantee you that the bidding for these limited opportunities would probably go through the roof and generate tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. Please don’t talk to me about cruelty to animals. If I can provide a park that saves many species from extinction and allows their populations to grow and flourish in freedom, then I think I can sacrifice a few of them to help make it all possible.
Every zoo in the world would be encouraged to give up their live animal cages and replace them with super 3D viewing, listening, and smelling rooms. We could even regulate the temperature, humidity, precipitation, and air movement to match that of the African environment. If the live video feeds aren’t exciting enough, we could record the best activity and replay it. Imagine listening to Enya’s album “Storms in Africa” while actually being in a virtual African storm!
The question is, can we earn $31 billion per year in revenues so that the place will at least break even? It might not have to if we can actually get the people of the Congo trained to be more productive than they currently are and we get a cut of the profit. We will probably have to reserve some real estate around the capital city of Kinshasa, which is fortunately near the edge of the country, as a place to relocate the citizens. However, I would prefer to create an entirely new type of city shaped in a ring around the wildlife preserve that is only a few miles thick but a thousand miles around connected by a high-speed rail system. This would provide the needed support for all the border guards and maintenance personnel who will need to work on the surveillance vehicles. I will, of course, need lots of people to build the border fences and border security guards to keep people from breaking in. To generate revenue, I would need vehicle operators and maintainers, video commentators and editors, wildlife guides, veterinarians, communications tower technicians, TV producers, etc. I’m working on that business plan right now.
I think it’s a cool idea and I’m willing to put billions of dollars on the line to get it started. I just need billions of dollars and a bit of diplomatic support to help get the people out of the Congo and into a new city. If you think this is a bad idea, then consider the alternative. We can do nothing until these animals really all are extinct and then have nothing left to build but a super 3D computer-generated viewing room full of fake animals doing what people think they would have been doing had they still been alive. Not so exciting.
Would you really choose virtual reality over real reality? If so, I guess you are also likely to settle for a virtual girlfriend instead of a real one. Good luck with that. I’ll be discussing virtual sex in an upcoming post, so stay tuned. But I’d rather look into the eyes of a beautiful lioness and hear her chilling growl than settle for a computer simulation any day.