views updated May 21 2018


The word zoo first appeared in the 1867 music hall hit Walking in the Zoo on Sunday, which includes the observation: "the OK thing to do /On Sunday afternoon is to toddle in the Zoo." An abbreviation of zoological garden, "zoo" sounds cute and childlike. From the start the zoological garden had a special appeal to children. In 1828 the Zoological Society of London opened the zoological garden in Regent's Park, and its very first guidebook, Henry and Emma's Visit to the Zoological Gardens, addressed children as the main guests.

For centuries, various societies have established collections of wild and exotic animals. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Chinese civilizations all had magnificent collections of animals. Aristotle based his zoological studies on menageries in ancient Greece, and in ancient Rome enormous menageries were established to furnish the sanguine spectacles with exotic animals. Medieval princes marked their symbolic power by having various types of animals in their castles and surrounding grounds. The great discoveries of the sixteenth century incited a new interest in exotic animals, and the princes of the Renaissance and the Baroque gathered these animals in well-defined spaces, buildings, or gardens, thus establishing the forerunners of the modern, public zoological garden. But at this time any notion of a special relationship between children and animals seems to have been absent.

The menagerie was a symbol of power, and the king would define himself as the center of the world by having the animals gathered around his feet. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century menageries of Austria and France were based on radiating plans with a pavilion in the center and paddocks radiating from there. In 1765 the menagerie at Schönbrunn opened to the public as the oldest continuous animal collection. At Versailles the menagerie also was constructed to appeal to the royal gaze. The French Revolution in 1789 changed the royal menagerie to a public institution. The animals were moved from the court to Paris's Jardin des Plantes. At first the revolutionaries wanted this zoological garden to represent bourgeois values such as utility and reason, but the Napoleonic Wars reintroduced the need for power display. On July 27, 1798, French troops entered Paris in a triumphal march with exotic animals among the war booty.

The first director of the Jardin des Plantes organized the facility according to the principles of the picturesque English landscape garden: no fixed center, sinuous paths, nature as a symbol of freedom. The landscape garden became the dominant model for the exhibition of animals in the nineteenth century, and the term zoological garden was coined when the Zoological Society of London in 1828 opened its collections.

After the founding of the London Zoo hardly a year passed without a new zoo being established in the major European and American cities. In Copenhagen the zoological garden opened 1859, at the same time when the ramparts around the medieval city were demolished. The zoological garden was a symbol of modernitybut was also "an ark in the park," where nature could be protected in the midst of the ongoing process of urbanization.

These collections of animals were established for different purposes, and the specific character of a collection may be used as a key to the understanding of the culture within which the animals were collected. The ancient and medieval menageries were sites of worship and power-display, whereas the main purposes of the modern zoological garden are research, education, and entertainment. In the modern era, the process of rationalization has taken away the spell animals once had. In earlier times they entered the imagination as magic beings, messengers with supernatural powers. In the zoological garden any children would understand that they were the masters of the universe.

By the nineteenth century animals had become objecti-fied as meat, fur, or exotic spectacles. However, animals maintained traces of their traditional significance as humanity's partner in nature as pets, and the brutal expansion of civilization's dominance over nature was accompanied by a growing sentimentalism. Animals became "worthy" of human feelings; the loyalty of dogs became a popular motive in the arts. A market for pets came about, and the growing distaste for cruelty against animals led to legal measures against such behavior.

Zoos also promoted a more tender view of animals. One famous animal attraction was Jumbo the elephant. He was captured in the African jungle in 1861, sold to a Paris zoo and after that to the London Zoo, where he was given the name Jumbo after an African word for elephant. In 1881 the London Zoo decided to sell Jumbo to the American showman P. T. Barnum, and this caused a Jumbo-mania on both sides of the Atlantic. Jumbo's keeper in the London Zoo declared: "He has been engaged in carrying around the children of the human family almost daily for twenty years."

If animals were treated as a kind of human beings, it was only natural that they should live like human beings. In the nineteenth century zoos excelled in exotic architecture for animals: Indian pagodas for the elephants, Moorish temples for the monkeys, Gothic towers for the owls. This environment offered entertaining information on the geographical origin of the animals, and it also witnessed the new fraternity between man and beast. The publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origins of Species in 1859 only enhanced such sentiments.

The call for a return to nature had been answered by early romantic landscape gardeners who invented the sunken, and therefore invisible, fence called the "ha-ha." The "ha-ha" made possible the revolutionary innovations in zoo design patented by the great German zoo director Carl Hagenbeck. In 1907, near Hamburg, he opened a zoo where the bars between man and beast were replaced by concealed moats, and where the animal houses were replaced by theatrical scenery. These "panoramas" with animals roaming "freely" in African or Arctic landscapes paved the way for later efforts to show the animals in their natural surroundings.

The tendency to remove the barriers between nature and culture had a great impact on efforts to make the zoo relate to children. Three strategies were adopted: the farm strategy where children could look at and play with cows, pigs, goats, and the like; the fairy tale strategy where the children could identify with fairy tales about animals behaving like man (or kids); and the pedagogical strategy which attempted to make it possible for children to experience the world from the perspective of different animals.

The farm strategy was introduced by the Philadelphia Zoo, which in 1938 was the first zoo to introduce a petting zoo for children, with small cages built like farm stables, where children could see and sometimes play with ducks, pigs, calves, turtles, mice and even baby lions.

The fairy tale strategy has been used by a number of zoos. In 1958 the San Francisco Zoo opened Storyland with twenty-six animated action and audio sets in two and three dimensions depicting scenes from Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and other fairy tales and nursery rhymes. This was the first "fairy tale" zoo. In Catskill Game Farm Inc., New York, the children's zoo was built as a kindergarten with fairy tale houses where the young animals could live with their mothers.

Pedagogical considerations have been a part of the zoo history since its beginning. The farm strategy may be considered a pedagogical method offering urban children an opportunity to see cows, goats, horses, and other animals. When the Children's Zoo of London Zoo was founded in 1938, the idea was to give urban children a chance to come into close contact with young and domesticated animals. A more explicit pedagogical strategy could be found in San Diego Zoological Garden. Here education was the aim of the children's zoo, and it even had its own school with teachers, several school buses, and other similar features. An extreme version of the efforts to make children understand the world of animals may be found in zoos where children can romp on giant spider webs or crawl through a meerkat tunnel (such as at the San Francisco Zoo), spend a night in an animal house (the Lincoln Park Zoo), or see the world through the eyes of a prairie dog by peering through a fiber-glass prairie dog burrow (the Bronx Zoo).

In the first zoos bars made the difference between children and animals visible, and the zoo experience was primarily one of wonder, fear, and pride of man's dominance over nature. In the modern zoo the bars have been removed or concealed, thus stressing the connections between all living things and emphasizing education and identification. Now most zoos offer schools an extension of their classrooms and define their mission as that of fostering curiosity, empathy, and learning about animals in order to stimulate a sense of responsibility for the natural environment.

See also: Vacations.


Baratay, Éric, and Élisabeth Hardouin-Fugier. 1998. Zoos. Histoire des jardins zoologiques en Occident (XVIe-XXe siècle). Paris: Éditions La Dècouverte.

Kirchshofer, Rosl, ed. 1966. Zoologische Gärten der Welt. Die Welt des Zoo. Frankfurt am Main: Umschau Verlag.

Martin Zerlang

Zoological Parks

views updated May 23 2018


ZOOLOGICAL PARKS. Although royal animal collections and popular traveling menageries had existed for centuries, true zoological gardens—organized, permanent exhibitions of animals intended for public education and enjoyment—emerged only in the wake of the Enlightenment, that eighteenth-century intellectual movement celebrating science, reason, and order. The first public animal collections opened in major European cities such as Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, London, and Berlin during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. In most cases these gardens were established by private zoological societies that believed that their collections would provide scientific interest, natural history instruction, and cultural improvement for their cities' growing bourgeoisie. American zoological gardens took somewhat longer to develop—in part because most antebellum cities lacked the requisite cultural capital to establish major civic institutions, in part because American audiences already enjoyed a number of other sites for live-animal amusement, from itinerant circuses and country fairs to the eclectic museums of Charles Willson Peale and P. T. Barnum. (Barnum's American Museum in New York also boasted the nation's first public aquarium, opened in 1856.) By the 1860s, though, the attraction of more substantial, permanent, respectable animal gardens had become too compelling for civic-minded American elites to ignore.

The First American Animal Gardens: 1860s–1900s

A few leading zoo boosters explicitly followed the lead of their European predecessors. The Zoological Society of Philadelphia, modeled largely on its London counterpart, was chartered in 1859, though the Civil War postponed the opening of the Society's garden until 1874. The Cincinnati Zoological Garden debuted one year later, drawing its inspiration from the festive animal parks of Germany. Both institutions embraced the twin goals of "instruction and recreation" and proclaimed themselves to be civic institutions of the highest order, allied with the libraries, concert halls, museums, and other cultural attractions of the Gilded Age metropolis. In most American cities, though, zoos developed not as philanthropic endeavors but rather as adjuncts to municipal parks departments. New York's Central Park Menagerie appeared in the early 1860s, partly as a result of unsolicited public donations of animals to the city. Chicago's Lincoln Park boasted its own zoo by 1868, with the first inhabitants—a pair of swans—coming from the Central Park Menagerie. By the end of the nineteenth century, over twenty American cities from Baltimore to Boise had opened their own municipal zoos, with most open to the public free of charge. Not surprisingly, these public facilities tended to be more modest affairs than the society-run gardens, but what they lacked in funding they more than made up in popularity, with weekend attendance running into the tens of thousands.

Whether privately or publicly administered, American zoos generally adhered to a common design tradition. Animals were typically housed in barred cages or fenced corrals, often organized taxonomically (all birds together, all cats together) rather than geographically or ecologically. Most exhibition buildings were simple utilitarian shelters, but some parks constructed elaborate animal houses with ornamental features echoing the prevailing architectural styles of the animals' native lands. The grounds of most American zoos covered no more than forty or fifty acres, and while winding paths and ample trees provided a pleasant pastoral atmosphere, little attempt was made at simulating the creatures' natural habitat.

Near the end of the nineteenth century, however, two new facilities pioneered a revolutionary new design model, that of the so-called "zoological park." The National Zoological Park, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution, was established by Congress in 1889 as a "city of refuge" for endangered North American species, with only a fraction of its 160 acres to be dedicated to public exhibition. Ten years later the New York Zoological Society opened its park of approximately 261 acres in the Bronx, with similar plans for preserving native fauna. A driving spirit (and the first director) for both parks was William Temple Hornaday, a former chief taxidermist for the Smithsonian, whose outrage at the indiscriminate slaughter of American bison led to a long career promoting wildlife conservation and popular education in natural history. By the early 1900s both zoological parks saw their original conservationist missions fade, as funding difficulties and visitor demand led to the development of more "traditional" zoological collections, stocked not with bison and elk but with elephants and lions. (After 1902, the New York Zoological Society also operated a hugely popular aquarium, first at Castle Garden in Manhattan's Battery Park, later at Coney Island in Brooklyn.) Nevertheless, the more expansive vision of both landscape and mission seen in Washington and the Bronx profoundly influenced future generations of zoo designers and directors.

The Age of Spectacle and Showmanship: 1910s–1950s

A further shift toward naturalistic design came in the early-twentieth century, thanks to the influence of German animal dealer and zoo director Carl Hagenbeck. At his Tierpark near Hamburg, opened in 1907, Hagenbeck oversaw the construction of vast barless enclosures, out-door panoramas that displayed a variety of species in a roughly "natural" landscape of artificial rock, with animals and visitors separated only by strategically hidden moats. While some American zoo directors refused to build such exhibits, citing concerns for the safety of both animals and visitors, several parks in the Midwest and West eagerly adopted the new designs during the interwar years, recognizing their potential for adding drama and spectacle to the zoogoing experience, as well as offering the appearance of freedom for the animals. In Denver, Detroit, St. Louis, San Diego, and the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, zoo visitors gaped at bears, big cats, and hoofed stock exhibited in the open air, with nary a bar or fence in sight.

These dramatic new designs were abetted by an emerging ideal of "showmanship." Needing to compete with a booming mass culture, zoo directors of the 1920s and 1930s developed a variety of new features that emphasized entertainment over education. From trained chimpanzee performances to elephant rides to concerts and restaurants, these added attractions encouraged visitors to see the zoo as a cultural resort. Such attractions were also promoted more professionally and aggressively by more publicity-minded directors like George Vierheller of St. Louis, whose unabashed endorsement of zoos' entertainment value represented a conspicuous change from the more scientific and educational aims of William Temple Hornaday. The popular success of "showmanship" helped zoos to survive the trials of the Great Depression and World War II. At a time when their funding might easily have disappeared, zoos actually managed to secure millions of dollars in government aid, particularly under the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA), by presenting themselves as beloved, even essential, elements of their respective communities.

During the postwar years, American zoos continued to enjoy tremendous popularity. Riding the crest of the baby boom, zoos proudly promoted themselves as purveyors of wholesome "family entertainment" that parents and children could delight in together. Dozens of parks opened special "children's zoos" featuring tame, pettable creatures, often displayed in fanciful storybook settings. Lincoln Park's R. Marlin Perkins developed the first zoobased television program, Zoo Parade, in 1949, showcasing his zoo's colorful animal personalities and soon inspiring several imitators. In both of these new arenas, zoo animals symbolically became family pets, neatly domesticated for children's enjoyment.

Reinventing the Zoo: 1960s–1990s

Yet beneath these family-friendly innovations lurked serious financial and philosophical problems, and by the 1960s and 1970s, many zoos had fallen on hard times. Declining urban tax bases forced many cities to decrease their support for municipal zoos, leading to a marked deterioration in the parks' physical plants. When zoos could afford to construct new buildings, they often favored starkly antiseptic enclosures of tiled walls and glass-fronted cages, designed to ensure the animals' health but destined to provoke criticism. Indeed, a growing movement for animal welfare and animal rights increasingly condemned zoos' "naked cages," contrasting them with the lushness and vitality of the animals' natural habitats (habitats familiar to many Americans through popular wildlife documentaries, such as Marlin Perkins's Wild Kingdom). (New commercial competitors provided even more challenges to zoos, as drive-through safari parks and sea-life theme parks provided visitors with more spectacular attractions and better customer service.) All of these developments reinforced a general trend of decreasing attendance at the nation's zoos, and the consequent loss of income and popularity further exacerbated the problems of financing and image. Underfunded and under attack, the American zoo itself appeared to be an endangered species.

Over the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, zoos rebounded by dramatically altering their identities—physically, philosophically, professionally, and politically. Innovative exhibit designers abandoned cages and moats in favor of "landscape immersion," an exhibition model that used ample vegetation and carefully controlled sightlines to create strikingly realistic replicas of the animals' native habitats. (Improved technology allowed for similarly elaborate, naturalistic exhibits at the score of new American aquariums that opened during the last three decades of the century.) Curators from across the country organized cooperative captive breeding programs, or Species Survival Plans (SSPs), highlighting the zoo's role as a "Noah's ark" for creatures facing extinction in the wild. The American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA)—later renamed the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA)—became an independent entity in 1972, ending its decades-long association with a municipal-parks organization and gradually reinventing itself as both monitor and promoter of the nation's zoos. Finally, a wave of privatization swept the zoo world, as cash-strapped city governments turned their animal collections over to private zoological societies (which then had to recruit corporate donors and raise admission fees in order to pay the bills).

Yet, while these changes prompted many observers to declare a wholesale "zoo revolution" by the 1990s, the fundamental attraction of zoos remained much the same as it had been nearly a century-and-a-half before: the deep-seated human desire to see active, entertaining, charismatic animals up close and in the flesh. Indeed, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, American zoos were attracting over 130 million visitors a year—a figure greater than the annual attendance at all professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey games combined. Such astonishing popularity suggests that zoological parks will continue to shape and reflect Americans' ideas of entertainment and education, of civilization and the wild, of people and animals, for many generations to come.


Croke, Vicki. The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos, Past, Present, and Future. New York: Scribners, 1997. Accessible popular survey.

Hanson, Elizabeth A. Animal Attractions: Nature on Display in American Zoos. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. Especially valuable on collecting and display of zoo animals.

Hoage, R. J., and William A. Deiss, eds. New Worlds, New Animals: From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. "Seeing Ourselves through the Bars: A Historical Tour of American Zoos." Landscape 25, no. 2 (1981): 12–19.

Hyson, Jeffrey N. "Jungles of Eden: The Design of American Zoos." In Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture. Edited by Michel Conan. Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research and Library Collection, 2000.

Kisling, Vernon N., Jr., ed. Zoo and Aquarium History: Ancient Animal Collections to Zoological Gardens. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2001.

Mullan, Bob, and Garry Marvin. Zoo Culture. 2d ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Provocative study by sociologist and anthropologist.


See alsoMarine Biology ; Ornithology .


views updated May 11 2018


Zoos are institutions for exhibiting and studying wild animals. Many contemporary zoos have also made environmental education and the conservation of biodiversity part of their mission. "Zoo" is a term derived from the Greek zoion, meaning "living being." As a prefix it indicates the topic of animals, such as in zoology (knowledge of animals) or zoogeography (the distribution and evolutionary ecology of animals). As a noun it is a popular shorthand for all zoological gardens and parks.

Design and operation

Zoological gardens and parks are complex institutions involving important factors of design, staffing, economics, and politics. Design of a zoo is a compromise between the needs of the animals (e.g., light, temperature, humidity, cover, feeding areas, opportunities for natural behavior), the requirements of the staff (e.g., offices, libraries, research and veterinary laboratories, garages, storage sheds), and amenities for visitors (e.g., information, exhibitions, restaurants, rest areas, theaters, transportation ).

Zoos range in size from as little as 2 acres (0.8 ha) to as much as 3,000 acres (1,231 ha), and animal enclosures may range from small cages to fenced-in fields. The proper size for each enclosure is determined by many factors, including the kind and number of species being exhibited and the extent of the enclosure's natural or naturalistic landscaping. In small zoos, space is at a premium. Cages and paddocks are often arranged into taxonomic or zoogeographic pavilions, with visitors walking among the exhibits. As a collection of animals in a confined and artfully arranged space, these zoos are called zoological gardens. In larger zoos, more space is generally available. Enclosures may be bigger, the landscaping more elaborate, and cages fewer in number. Nonpredatory species such as hoofed mammals may roam freely within the confines of the zoo's outer perimeter. Visitors may walk along raised platforms or ride monorail trains through the zoo. Lacking the confinement and precise arrangement of a garden, these zoos are called zoological parks. Some zoos take go a step farther and model themselves after Africa's national parks and game preserves . Visitors drive cars or ride buses through these "safari parks," observing animals from vehicles or blinds.

A zoo's many functions are reflected in its staff, which is responsible for the animals' well-being, exhibitions, environmental education, and conservation programs. There are several job categories: administrators, office personnel, and maintenance staff tend to the management of the institution. Curators are trained wildlife biologists responsible for animal acquisition and transfer, as well as maintaining high standards of animal care. Keepers perform the routine care of the animals and the upkeep of their enclosures. Veterinarians focus on preventive and curative medicine, guard against contagious disease, heal stress-induced ailments or accidental injuries, and preside over births and autopsies. Well-trained volunteers serve as guides and guards, answering questions and monitoring visitor conduct. Educators and scientists may also be present for the purpose of environmental education and research.

Zoos are expensive undertakings, and their economy enables or constrains their resources and practices. Few good zoos produce surplus revenue; their business is service, not profit. Most perpetually seek new sources of capital from both public and private sectors, including government subsidies, admission charges, food and merchandise sales, concessionaire rental fees, donations, bequests, and grants. The funds are used for a variety of purposes, such as daily operations, animal acquisitions, renovations, expansion, public education, and scientific research. The precise mixture of public and private funds is situational. As a general rule, public money provides the large investments needed to start, renovate, or expand a zoo. Private funds are better suited for small projects and exhibit startup costs.

A variety of public and private interests claim a stake in a zoo's mission and management. Those concerned with the politics of zoos include units of government, regulatory agencies, commercial enterprises, zoological societies, non-profit foundations, activist groups, and scholars. They influence the availability and use of zoo resources by holding the purse strings and affecting public opinion. Conflict between the groups can be intense, and ongoing disputes over the use of zoos as entertainment, the acquisition of "charismatic megafauna" (big cute animals), and the humane treatment of wildlife are endemic.

History and purposes

Zoos are complex cultural phenomena. Menageries, the unsystematic collections of animals that were the progenitors of zoos, have a long history. Particularly impressive menageries were created by ancient societies. The Chinese emperor Wen Wang (circa 1000 b.c.) maintained a 1,500 acre (607 ha) "Garden of Intelligence." The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 b.c.) studied animal taxonomy from a menagerie stocked largely through the conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 b.c.). Over 1,200 years later, the menagerie of the Aztec ruler Montezuma (circa a.d. 1515) rivaled any European collection of the sixteenth century.

In the main, these menageries had religious, recreational, and political purposes. Ptolemy II of Egypt (300-251 b.c.) sponsored great processions of exotic animals for religious festivals and celebrations. The Romans maintained menageries of bears, crocodiles , elephants , and lions for entertainment. Powerful lords maintained and exchanged wild and exotic animals for diplomatic purposes, as did Charlemagne (a.d. 768-814), the medieval king of the Franks. Dignitaries gawked at tamed cheetahs strolling the botanical gardens of royal palaces in Renaissance Europe. Indeed, political and social prestige accrued to the individual or community capable of acquiring and supporting an elaborate and expensive menagerie.

In Europe, zoos replaced menageries as scholars turned to the scientific study of animals. This shift occurred in the eighteenth century, the result of European voyages of discovery and conquest, the founding of natural history museums, and the donation of private menageries for public display. Geographically representative species were collected and used to study natural history, taxonomy, and physiology. Some of these zoos were directed by the outstanding minds of the day. The French naturalist Georges Leopold Cuvier (1769-1832) was the zoological director of the Jardin de Plants de Paris (founded in 1793), and the German geographer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was the first director of the Berlin Zoological Garden (founded in 1844). The first zoological garden for expressly scientific purposes was founded by the Zoological Society of London in 1826; its establishment marks the advent of modern zoos.

Despite their scientific rhetoric, zoological gardens and parks retained their recreational and political purposes. Late nineteenth century visitors still baited bears, fed elephants, and marveled at the exhausting diversity of life. In the United States, zoos were regarded as a cultural necessity, for they reacquainted harried urbanites with their wilderness frontier heritage and proved the natural and cultural superiority of North America. As if recreation , politics, and science were not enough, an additional element was introduced in North American zoos: conservation. North Americans had succeeded in decimating much of the continent's wildlife, driving the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius ) to extinction , the American bison (Bison bison ) to endangerment, and formerly common wildlife into rarity. It was believed that zoos would counteract this wasteful slaughter of animals by promoting their wise use. At present, zoos claim similar purposes to explain and justify their existence, namely recreation, education, and conservation.

Evaluating zoos

Critics of zoos contend they are antiquated, counterproductive, and unethical; that field ecology and wildlife management make them unnecessary to the study and conservation of wildlife; and that zoos distort the public's image of nature and animal behavior, imperil rare and endangered wildlife for frivolous displays, and divert attention from saving natural habitat . Finally, critics hold that zoos violate humans' moral obligations to animals by incarcerating them for a trivial interest in recreation. Advocates counter these claims by insisting that most zoos are modern, necessary, and humane, offering a form of recreation that is benign to animal and human alike and is often the only viable place from which to conduct sustained behavioral, genetic, and veterinary research.

Zoos are an important part of environmental education. Indeed, some advocates have proposed "bioparks" that would integrate aquariums, botanical gardens, natural history museums, and zoos. Finally, advocates claim that animals in zoos are treated humanely. By providing for their nutritional, medical, and security needs, zoo animals live long and dignified lives, free from hunger, disease, fear, and predation.

The arguments of both critics and advocates have merit, and in retrospect, zoos have made substantial progress since the turn of the century. In the early 1900s, many zoos collected animals like postage stamps, placing them in cramped and barren cages with little thought to their comfort. Today, zoos increasingly use large naturalistic enclosures and house social animals in groups. They often specialize in zoogeographic regions, permitting the creation of habitats which plausibly simulate the climate , topography , flora , and fauna of a particular environment . Additionally, many zoos contribute to the protection of biodiversity by operating captive-breeding programs, propagating endangered species , and restoring destroyed species to suitable habitat.

This progress notwithstanding, zoos have limitations. Statements that zoos are "arks" of biodiversity, or that zoos teach people how to manage the "megazoo" called nature, greatly overstate their uses and lessons. Zoos simply cannot save, manage, and reconstruct nature once its genetic, species, and habitat diversity is destroyed. That said, the promotion by zoos of environmental education and biodiversity conservation is an important role in the defense of the natural world.

[William S. Lynn ]



Croke, V. The Modern Ark: The Story of Zoos: Past, Present, and Future. Collingdale: DIANE Publishing Co., 2000.

McKenna, V., W. Travers, and J. Wray, eds. Beyond the Bars: The Zoo Dilemma. Northamptonshire, UK: Thorsons Publishing Group, 1988.

Page, J. Zoo: The Modern Ark. New York: Facts On File, 1990.


Foose, T. J. "Erstwild & Megazoo." Orion Nature Quarterly 8 (Spring 1989): 6063.

Robinson, M. H. "Beyond the Zoo: The Biopark." Defenders 62 (November-December 1987): 1017.

Stott, J. R. "The Historical Origins of the Zoological Park in American Thought." Environmental Review 5 (Fall 1981): 5265.

Zoological Parks

views updated May 17 2018

Zoological Parks

As far back as the historical record goes, there is evidence of people keeping wild animals in cages. During the Middle Ages in Europe, rare and exotic animals, and occasionally even foreign natives, were displayed in traveling caravans called menageries. Stationary collections of animals then developed, where the captives were kept in small dark cells, usually alone, with no privacy and nothing to do. They frequently died in a short time and were replaced with new animals captured in the wild. Private zoos on the estates of the wealthy were also popular, with animal dealers supplying birds, reptiles, and mammals from around the world. Often as many as a dozen animals would be killed in captivity or in transport for every one that survived to be sold.

Protected Environments

In the late 1800s, a German animal dealer, Carl Hagenbeck, first envisioned the modern zoo. His dream was to create a spacious zoological park where animals could be seen in something resembling their native habitat . His park was built in 1907, near Stellingen, Germany, with no fences. Different species such as lions and zebras were kept in the same enclosure, separated by deep moats. Despite commercial popularity, Hagenbeck's ideas did not catch on until the mid-1900s. Animal behaviorists began to emphasize the importance of giving captive animals enough room for some activity and allowing social animals such as monkeys to be in the same cage. They concluded that animals kept in such environments would be healthier, more active, and more interesting to the paying public.

Worldwide, unspoiled habitats began disappearing at an alarming rate by the late twentieth century, as did their inhabitants; more and more wild animals became increasingly rare. Many larger zoos transformed from competing fiefdoms into cooperating members of zoological organizations whose mission became wildlife conservation, research, education of the public, and captive breeding of endangered species.

Disagreements Over the Best Strategies

As populations of some species plummet because of habitat destruction, illegal poaching , pesticides , and pollution of air and water, conservationists in the United States divide along two lines of thought. The first, which includes the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, believes that animals must be protected and saved in their own habitat, that a species is not saved unless it continues to exist in the wild. The second group is led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Audubon Society, and the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. They believe that endangered species must be brought into zoos and wildlife parks where new generations can be raised, frequently with much human intervention, and then released back into the wild. Many zoos participate in species survival plans (SSPs), which coordinate breeding efforts for more than fifty species, including cheetahs, rhinoceros, Asian elephants, orangutans, pandas, Puerto Rican crested toads, tamarins, zebras, tapirs, lemurs and Komodo dragons. The long-range goal of the SSP program is to build up large enough populations so that these animals can be returned to their natural habitat. A central computer system, the International Species Inventory System, keeps detailed records of the genetic background of the animals in the program. In order to avoid inbreeding depression , which can cause weakened resistance to disease and infertility, animals may be shipped from one part of the world to another to arrange genetically diverse matches. Ultimately, even this tiny gene pool will need to be replenished from the wild to stay vital.

Captive breeding programs have had mixed results. Some species respond well and others, for reasons not yet understood, but probably related to psychological stress, refuse to breed in captivity or, after birth, abandon their offspring.

New Ideas for Zoological Parks

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, zoos are moving in several directions. As local wild habitats vanish, some small zoos are specializing in local wildlife, providing a glimpse of how indigenous plants and animals interact. Large wildlife parks incorporate hundreds of acres of bogs, woods, meadows, and grasslands and feature native and exotic species that thrive in local conditions. These parks are frequently driven through or have walking trails where people are inobtrusively separated from the animals.

Some zoos have become "bioparks," using aerial walkways, watery moats, and one-way security glass to offer visitors the opportunity to see animals in something resembling natural conditions. These immersion exhibits are sometimes huge re-creations of specific ecosystems . Amazonia, at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is a 1,400-square-meter (15,000-square-foot) dome filled with thousands of tropical plants, fish, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. With careful attention to temperature and humidity, it offers a taste of a real tropical jungle. Other immersion exhibits include replicas of Antarctic penguin islands and sandy deserts. Moonlight houses have also become common in many zoos. In these buildings day and night are reversed. Infrared lighting allows people to view nocturnal species who rest during the day and are active at night. In large enclosures that have artificial caves and tunnels, bats fly about in search of fruit, nectar, and insects. Desert animals emerge from burrows, coyotes stalk and howl, raccoons hunt for food to wash beside streams, and crocodiles and alligators wallow in marshes before setting off in search of dinner. As people live increasingly urbanized lives, they are looking for zoos to provide a way to get closer to nature and an experience of the wild.

Modern zoos are extremely expensive operations. It is a massive undertaking to meet the daily nutritional needs of hundreds of animals of different species. The food must be as appropriate as possible to each animal and delivered in a way that mimics its natural eating habits. Carnivores need whole animals or large chunks of meat and bone. Primates need to search out fruits, nuts, and seeds that have been hidden in their enclosures. Each elephant requires 45 kilograms (100 pounds) of grass and 14 kilograms (30 pounds) of vegetables a day. Live worms, crickets, guppies, lizards, and mice are all kept on hand for specialized appetites. And some herbivores need specific leaves from their homes: acacia for giraffes, eucalyptus for koalas, bamboo for pandas, and hibiscus for leaf-eating monkeys. Abandoned or orphaned infants require precise formulas and extensive care. Some baby birds need to be fed every few minutes to survive.

In nature, sick or injured animals die swiftly. In zoos, each animal represents such a costly investment that most major zoos have full-time medical teams to diagnose and treat disease and provide preventive health care. Tigers and gorillas get dental checks. Females are tested for fertility and carefully monitored during pregnancy. New animals and sick ones are quarantined, and surgeries are performed on broken limbs or tumors.

Naturalistic zoo exhibits attempt to recreate the environment of a given species. This involves scientists, designers, architects, and curators. The exhibit must take into account every detail of each animal's life: breeding, social interaction, exercise, and the food gathering method for which the animal is genetically designed. The insects, plants, and geologic features need to be recreated. Careful regulation of temperature, humidity, and the length and variation of daylight needs to be maintained. The amount of effort involved in recreating even a small ecosystem is beyond the capability of all but the largest zoos.

Although one of the stated goals of zoos is to replenish wild populations, almost no animals have ever been returned to their native habitat. Restoring wild animals is difficult, expensive, and requires the cooperation of the local people to succeed. Craig Hoover, program manager of the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Arm of the World Wildlife Fund, stated that "Zoos have been very successful breeding grounds for many species. But what do you do with those animals when they're not babies anymore? Certainly the open market is the best place to sell them" (Merritt 1991, p. 32). And dozens of major zoos admit to supplying the multibillion dollar a year trade in exotic animals, where rare and endangered species wind up in the private collections of celebrities or as trophy targets on profitable hunting ranches.

Critics of zoos contend that while zoos justify their existence by claiming to educate children, they are teaching the wrong lesson: that it is acceptable to keep wild animals in captivity. Nor is warehousing animals the answer to saving them from extinction. The ultimate salvation of endangered species is in protecting their natural habitats. Perhaps the future of zoos lies in the vision of the Worldlife Center in London, a high-tech zoo with no animals. Visitors observe animals via live satellite links with the Amazon rain forest, the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and the African savanna and jungle. Rather than putting money into all the infrastructure of a modern zoo, it goes directly to habitat protection to developing nonprofit sanctuaries where hunters and poachers are kept at bay and through which the local people are given an economic incentive to participate in wildlife preservation.

The greatest contribution that zoos may have made is to highlight how little humans understand the incredibly intricate mechanisms of life on Earth. Human technology, while capable of destroying vast ecosystems, is insufficient to create and maintain them. Zoos began as a symbol of human conquest of wild animals. Perhaps modern zoos can serve as sanctuaries for animals rescued from ill treatment and as reminders to be more respectful of nature and the place of humans in it.

see also Habitat Loss; Habitat Restoration; Natural Selection; Populations; Selective Breeding.

Nancy Weaver


Challindor, David, and Michael H. Robinson. Zoo Animals: A Smithsonian Guide. New York: Macmillan, 1995.

Merritt, Clifton. "Low Class, No Class Scumballs." Animals Agenda 11, no. 10 (1991):32.

The Zoological Society of San Diego has developed a different and engaging interface for accessing information on its web site. This new site is titled "E-Zoo," and is available at <http://www.sandiegozoo.org/virtualzoo/homepage.html>. Between the interactive games, the videos, and the e-postcards, the Zoological Society has helped to make learning about animals fun from any location even your desk chair.


views updated Jun 27 2018

zoos. The earliest zoos were miscellaneous private collections of animals for curiosity rather than scientific study. Monarchs occasionally offered strange beasts as gifts and courtesy necessitated that they should be cherished. Henry I had a menagerie at Woodstock which included lions, leopards, lynxes, camels, and a porcupine. From the 13th cent. onwards, lions were kept in the Tower of London. They were joined by an elephant sent to Henry III in 1254 by Louis IX of France. As diplomatic contacts became more permanent, housing the gifts caused problems. The Russian ambassador presented Charles II with two pelicans, which went to the menagerie in St James's Park, the Moroccan ambassador gave two lions (sent to the Tower) and thirty ostriches (sent to the park). Private citizens made their own collections. Sir Sanders Duncombe, a physician, had a small zoo in the 17th cent., and Pepys received from the consul at Algiers a lion cub, which he kept at Admiralty headquarters in Derby House. Animals were also exhibited for private gain. Evelyn in 1684 gives a detailed description of the first rhinoceros to be seen in England, and a crocodile. The governor of New South Wales in 1792 sent George III the first kangaroo to be trans-shipped.

Many of these menageries were open, at least to the respectable public, for a small fee, but public zoos waited until the 19th cent. The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826, with Sir Humphry Davy as a supporter and Sir Stamford Raffles as first president. Its premises in Regent's Park were opened to the public in 1828. The society's collection was augmented in 1830 by the transfer of the royal menagerie from Windsor (one of William IV's cost-cutting exercises) and in 1834 when the animals from the Tower were brought across, including more than 100 rattlesnakes. In 1843 a reptile house was opened, an aquarium in 1853, and an insect house in 1881. The first hippopotamus arrived in 1850, a sea-lion in 1856, and a gorilla in 1887 (it died), but the first giant panda not until 1938. By that time the society had opened Whipsnade on Dunstable Downs (1931), still one of the most delightful of all zoos.

Meanwhile, private and municipal zoos multiplied. George Wombwell's travelling menagerie was very popular from the 1820s, though he pepped up the entertainment with animal fights and exhibitions. The Dublin Zoo opened in 1831, Bristol in 1835, and Manchester in 1836. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, founded in 1909, purchased the Corstorphine estate at Edinburgh in 1913 and completed the zoo by 1927. After 1945 safari parks and country-house zoos proliferated, the ‘Lions of Longleat’ leading the way. Though zoos are regarded primarily as amusement and treats for the children, their work in publishing, lectures, and seminars is of critical importance, and much of their income in recent years has been devoted to preserving species.

J. A. Cannon


views updated May 23 2018

zoo / zoō/ • n. an establishment that maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public. ∎ Informal a situation characterized by confusion and disorder: it's a zoo in the lobby.DERIVATIVES: zoo·ey adj. inf. .


views updated May 17 2018

Zoo (zoological gardens) Public or private institution in which living animals are kept and exhibited. Wild animals have been kept in captivity since the beginning of recorded history. Organized public zoos, sometimes called menageries or aquariums (for fish), have been operating for more than 500 years in Europe. Today, non-profit-making organizations or zoological societies run most zoos in a scientific manner. They are organized for public recreation as well as for scientific and educational purposes. The emphasis is on conservation of endangered species and exhibiting animals in natural settings.


views updated May 18 2018


a collection of animals; strangely acting persons. [From the Zoological Gardens, London.]


views updated May 29 2018

zoo XIX. Shortening of Zoological Gardens.