Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

We went down to the woods

January 17th, 2009

VIEWS ON zoos vary. Some people see no moral argument in favour of keeping animals in cages, believing that they are born to be wild and we humans have no right to incarcerate them for our ostensible pleasure.

Having enjoyed a lifetime of the company of dogs I don't share these views. In the long forgotten mists of time the wild ancestors of our domestic dogs allowed themselves to become domesticated in return for a regular supply of food. Through constant association with humans over countless generations they have discarded most of their primordial characteristics and become dependant on us. In effect we have become their zoo keepers.

When we were newly married a great-aunt gave us membership of Edinburgh Zoo, and the Doyenne and I regularly took the family there when they were young. We always visited the Whitson Wood enclosure for roe deer which had been funded by my great-aunt in memory of my great-uncle, who had been Lord Provost of Edinburgh. Having grandchildren who enjoy the zoo experience, and being in Edinburgh anyway, prompted us to visit the zoo again after a long period.

First call was to the Whitson Wood which has expanded to house several varieties of deer. Major developments in the physical layout of the zoo park reflect changes in animal welfare and advances in animal conservation. The Budongo Trail opened last year and is the largest chimpanzee enclosure in the world. It is not just a major attraction for visitors to the zoo but is a world-class research centre closely linked to the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda's Budongo Forest.

It has been man's ability to impose his demands on the world, against which other animals are defenceless, that has created the diminishing environment in which animals have to survive. Edinburgh Zoo could be just a collection of wonderful animals in a dramatic hillside setting in a nice part of Edinburgh, but the focus is on conserving biodiversity and connecting people to their natural environment through close encounters.

Exciting news is that in 2010 the zoo expects to receive two giant pandas from China – an example of practising what they preach. Scientific and conservation research on the captive pandas will add to the body of knowledge needed to turn these iconic animals back from the brink of extinction in the wild.

The zoo park is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland whose centenary is this year. Education was one of the Society's earliest objectives and stimulating visitors' curiosity remains a high priority. The appeal is to all ages, not just to enjoy the wonder of living animals, but to be inspired to care.

An announcement on the website (www.rzss.org.uk) says that there is free admission to the over-60s on Wednesday 18 March. That might be another fine day out for the Doyenne!

Written on Saturday, January 17th, 2009 at 10:25 pm for Weekly.