Sir, Returning to Ireland on holiday, we were interested to hear that the Dublin Zoological Gardens is undergoing extensive redevelopment. We heard also that Mountjoy Jail will be rebuilt. No doubt many will mourn the changing of these two Dublin institutions of confinement, which are enshrined in the literature and song of the city.

A Sunday afternoon visit revealed some anomalies. Notices informed us that most of the animals we would see were born in zoos and that it is not easy to reinstate animals in the wild. The inference being that these are Dublin giraffes and kangaroos "who are content with their lot and I do not want to be returned to the self catering wild, thank you very much.

The new landscapes were not completed at the time of our visit. However, we were able to see many of the old zoo regulars in their on upgraded accommodation; the two elephants on their muddy patch pacing up and down, pretending to throw dust on their backs to protect themselves from the tropical Dublin sun; the lions, whose natural habitat is the vast African bush, staring at the visitors from their quarter acre plot; the filthy beavers morosely fornicating in their run down enclosure; the two snow leopards, designed by nature to range across the high altitude snows of Asia, in their tiny compound. The high glass walls, designed to show these beautiful creatures off, showed instead their muddy paw marks where they had hurled themselves in frustration against it. And the monkeys...

Perhaps the most extraordinary sight we saw was the caged infant orang utan. A long queue concealed what turned out to be this tiny nappied creature in a human baby's playpen. Adjoining it was a carrycot and other new baby accoutrements.

The new environments, Arctic World, Jungle World et cetera will, it is assumed, promote the animals from prisoner to actor status. They will impersonate themselves on stage sets that will attempt to give the illusion of the wild, while at the same time separating the eaters from the eatable.

Can the designers of Mountjoy learn from all of this? Perhaps the jail could be reopened to the public as Prisoner World and made into a paying proposition, instead of remaining a burden on the taxpayer. Following the theme park concept, we could have the Armed Robbery Experience, Rape World, Murder One and Paedophile Corner. Prisoners and their exhibits could be adopted by industry; the banks no doubt would be interested in the Thieving Experience. Prisoners would be paid and could even be encouraged to stay inside, instead of going out to repeat their crimes, a sort of prisoner reform programme in reverse.

The proposition that zoos have a positive role in conservation has long lost credibility. They have had as much success at preserving their prisoners as our prisons have in reforming theirs. Their claim to have a role in education is laughable. Overheard by our daughter were two youthful fathers pushing prams past the ancient balding camel. Whas dah Das a camel ... Jasez, it's a quare fucken yoke inta? What educational message the unfortunate orang utan infant was supposed to convey, I cannot imagine.

The only way we will conserve threatened wildlife is by protecting the environments in which they live. The continued existence of zoos, which are largely populated by animals captured in the wild, attacks the very essence of conservation and the shameful abuse of our fellow creatures disgraces us. The monkeys are not supposed to make us laugh. - Yours etc,

PO Box 40493,

Nairobi, Kenya.