Zooland: The Institution of Captivity

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This book takes a unique stance on a controversial topic: zoos. Zoos have their ardent supporters and their vocal detractors. And while we all have opinions on what zoos do, few people consider how they do it. Irus Braverman draws on more than seventy interviews conducted with zoo managers and administrators, as well as animal activists, to offer a glimpse into the otherwise unknown complexities of zooland.

Zooland begins and ends with the story of Timmy, the oldest male gorilla in North America, to illustrate the dramatic transformations of zoos since the 1970s. Over these decades, modern zoos have transformed themselves from places created largely for entertainment to globally connected institutions that emphasize care through conservation and education.

Zoos naturalize their spaces, classify their animals, and produce spectacular experiences for their human visitors. Zoos name, register, track, and allocate their animals in global databases. Zoos both abide by and create laws and industry standards that govern their captive animals. Finally, zoos intensely govern the reproduction of captive animals, carefully calculating the life and death of these animals, deciding which of them will be sustained and which will expire. Zooland takes readers behind the exhibits into the world of zoo animals and their caretakers. And in so doing, it turns its gaze back on us to make surprising interconnections between our understandings of the human and the nonhuman.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Braverman's Zooland engages with the new zoos of the 21st century. It is an innovative book, adding a new chapter to understanding how zoos evolve . . . Drawing upon Foucault, Braverman's ethnography of North American zoos presents an innovative, bold, and in-depth study of how zoos are conceived, managed, organized, spatialized, recorded, managed, and governed."—Eve Darien-Smith, Political & Legal Anthropology Review (PoLAR)

"Zooland: The Institution of Captivity views the history of American zoos through a different lens, relating the history of animal regulation and government to Michel Foucault's discussion of panopticon and pastoral power . . . Braverman's treatment of the history and the practice of modern zoos is comprehensive in both its research and presentation . . . [W]ith this Foucaultian approach it is certainly appropriate to apply the ideas of both the panopticon and pastoral power to the care of captive animals. This book provides a detailed perspective on the pertinent issues facing the modern zoological park."—Tanya Mueller, Journal of Anthropological Research

"This book is a timely addition to the growing literature on zoos and human-animal relations . . . [T]here is much [in this book] to interest anthropologists . . . [I]t is a study that deserves to be taken seriously . . . [T]his book may garner as much interest from anthropologists and scholars of governance and institutional life and from those interested in regimes of value and property. It is also, I believe, a text that will help engage students in the kinds of anthropological questions these areas of inquiry aim to provoke."—Adam Reed, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Irus Braverman's recent book Zooland is a wonderful read on a topic that is of both historical and current interest—zoos . . . Braverman does an admirable job of walking the line between zoo advocacy and condemnation and tracing an important historical and cultural shift in the self-understandings of those involved in the increasingly bureaucratized and professionalized institutional care and control of zoo animals. One gets a sense from the book and the voices of her interview subjects that zoo professionals really do care about these animals . . . The book puts forward their perspective fairly and with a great deal of compassion. On the other hand, it is steadfast in highlighting the contradictions and problems with zoo messaging that many of us have experienced and have probably only dimly perceived on a visit to our local zoo."—Angela Fernandez, Jotwell: The Journal of Things We Like (Lots)

"The book's most striking chapters go beyond animal bodies to consider zoo databases, regulations, and the new technologies that bring animal bodies into being. Braverman's exploration of the backstage practices of zooland makes for fascinating reading . . . Zooland stands as an admirable achievement and a welcome addition to the literature on zoos, as well as showing how biopolitics encompass more than human life. Braverman's research really gets to the heart of the paradox that the institution of captivity is an expression of care, even if that care justifies death and suffering."—Franklin Ginn, Environment and Planning D

Library Journal
Using more than 60 interviews with zoo administrators and managers as well as animal activists, Braverman (law, SUNY Buffalo; Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine) provides a close-up view of the complex nature of zoos. He starts and ends with the story of Timmy, who was the oldest male gorilla in North America when he died in 2011, to document how zoos have changed since the 1970s. He examines how they have evolved from holding pens to world-class exhibits for the preservation of species. Education is an important component of zoos, as is fostering species reproduction, including decisions about which species will be encouraged and which will not. And, ultimately, the book discusses the relationships and connections between humans and other animals, including the charge of stewardship. VERDICT This is a provocative book on a relatively unexamined topic. Braverman provides a thorough look at the transition of zoos and their care of animals from the 1970s to the present. Useful for anyone interested in our relationships with other species and in institutional guardianship.—Gloria Maxwell, Metropolitan Community Coll.-Penn Valley Lib., Kansas City, MO
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804783583
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2012
  • Series: Cultural Lives of Law Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 811,044
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Irus Braverman is Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Professor of Geography at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. She is the author of Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine (2009).
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Read an Excerpt


The Institution of Captivity

Stanford University Press

Copyright © 2013 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-8357-6

Chapter One

Naturalizing Zoo Animals

We urgently need urban-based institutions that will carry not just the images but also fervent messages about the unnecessary and massive loss of wildlife habitats around the world, which is unsustainable and is an evil thing.

David Hancocks, A Different Nature

One would expect that an ancient institution such as the zoo would have long exhausted popular appeal, particularly in comparison with high-tech attractions like amusement parks. But the zoo continues to attract the masses. As of September 2011, there were 214 accredited zoos and aquariums and over 800 nonaccredited zoos in the United States—more than twice the number of zoos than in any other country in the world. Every year, 175 million people visit AZA's accredited zoos to see 751,931 individual animals. Alongside churches, museums, theaters, shopping malls, and theme parks, zoos occupy a central place in the culture of North America.

What is it that makes zoos so attractive in today's society of spectacles? Although one could come up with many sophisticated answers, mine can be summarized in one word: nature. In this chapter, I explore the history of the zoo and the particular kinds of nature presented there, from the zoo's ancient origins as a menagerie—an aristocratic exhibition of exotic animals—to its manifestation as a twenty-first-century conservation park. A great deal of human work must be invested to create nature amidst an urban landscape—and even more work must be invested to make such human work invisible. I refer to the zoo's dual work of producing nature and obscuring its production as naturalization.

American Zoos: A Brief History

Contemporary North American zoos are products of a long process of institutional evolution. Historians trace the institution of the zoo back to exotic animal collections owned by the royalty of ancient civilizations, including King Wen Wang of China and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Most of the Greek city-states also had zoos and Roman emperors kept private collections of animals for amusement or for use in the arena. These royal menageries, which exhibited the power and wealth of the ruler, mostly lacked any scientific or educational agendas.

The next major phase in the zoo's institutional evolution was the zoological garden, distinguished from its predecessor by its taxonomic classification of animals. The science of classification was a primary concern at this stage of the zoo's evolution, and animals were exhibited in cages that were organized taxonomically. Zoological gardens were then designed as living museums, intended for the promotion of scientific agendas and for educating the general public. The earliest zoological gardens open to the public were founded with animals from private royal menageries. For example, the oldest existing zoo, the Vienna Zoo in Austria, evolved from the imperial menagerie at the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and was opened to the public in 1765. In 1795, the Jardin des Plantes was founded in Paris with animals from the royal menagerie in Versailles; its primary mission was scientific research and education.

The twentieth century saw a move on the part of many zoos toward ideologies of interconnection and unity within biological diversity, manifest in new designs that removed physical bars and walls between animals and the public. Carl Hagenbeck, often considered the founder of modern zoos, made the first steps in this direction when he opened the first bar-less zoo in the world in 1907. Whereas in traditional zoos the means of achieving separation and enclosure were highly visible, Hagenbeck contrived to make them invisible. Specifically, he attempted to make all apparatuses and attempts at classification—indeed, any trace of human intervention—vanish in favor of seeing the animals themselves. Hagenbeck's paradigm-changing design at Hamburg-Stellingen zoo is described by the Zoo and Aquarium Visitor journal: "In [Hagenbeck's] zoo of the future, nothing more than unseen ditches were to separate wild animals from members of the public."

In America, zoos came into existence during the transition from a rural and agricultural nation to an urban and industrial one. In 1860, Central Park Zoo, arguably the first public zoo in the United States, opened in New York. Influenced by the English garden style of informal landscape, the legendary founder of American landscape design, Frederick Law Olmsted, believed that nature could offer psychological recreation to tired city workers. Nature, under Olmsted's interpretation, was to be represented by winding paths and wide vistas to picturesque pastoral spots, with the least visible artifice possible. Zoos added a variation to this theme by placing animals in the pastoral landscape. American zoos were also products of the movement to create public parks on the outskirts of cities, a trend tied to late nineteenth-century anxiety about urban moral and social decay. As such, many American zoos were founded as divisions of public parks departments.

Although European zoos served as both model and inspiration for building zoos in the United States, American zoo planners conceived of their parks as distinct from the formal urban gardens that were European zoos. Having more land to work with and guided by a Puritan aesthetic, American zoos portrayed themselves as places of moral recreation, often making reference to scripture. Moreover, American architects have increasingly departed from Europe's colonial-style architecture in favor of more exotic and natural forms of design that are meant to enhance the visitor's experience of nature. Claiming the mantle of scientific truth, zoological parks encouraged popular natural history studies, using their landscape layout to advance this mission. Like public parks, they provided a retreat for city dwellers and a balance of nature and culture where a middle-class ethos could be enforced.

The emergence of the discipline of ecology and its associated environmental movement in the 1970s has brought about the most recent stage in the zoo's institutional evolution: the zoo as a biopark or conservation society. Today, the industry organization of accredited North American zoos, the AZA, prioritizes conservation and education in the mission of zoos. Founded in 1924, the AZA (originally the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums) is a nonprofit 501c(3) organization "dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science, and recreation."

The various stages of the zoo's evolution are more than relics of the past. The myriad expressions of these different institutional phases are also inscribed onto the current landscapes of North American zoos, where traces of their convoluted histories can still be observed. Zoos contain physical evidence of the cage phase, and the bar-less design of Hagenbeck's zoological parks is still prevalent in contemporary exhibit design. At the same time, zoos have drastically shifted their focus from emphasizing public entertainment through spectacular animal exhibits to becoming vehicles for the preservation of species and the conservation of ecosystems. In this last phase, zoos have taken upon themselves (and have been publicly entrusted with) the responsibility of caring for animals and of educating the public to care.

Nature at the Urban Zoo

Since the late nineteenth century, cities have come to be read as monuments to progress and order. It is from these monuments that the movements for conservation have emerged. Roderick Nash notes that "appreciation of wilderness began in the cities." During this time, zoos have developed as urban institutions—as places where nature can be introduced to the metropolis and converted into a domesticated spectacle. Modern zoos have thus come to represent the ultimate triumph of man over nature, of city over country, of reason over wildness and chaos. This process has been accompanied by nostalgia for lost nature and for the animals that have been progressively removed from the everyday life of the urban dweller. Zoos tell us something, then, about the construction of metropolitan cultures and identities, of what it was, and is, to be a modern city dweller.

Eric Baratay and Elizabeth Hardouin-Fugier suggest, furthermore, that if the city is a human zoo, the zoo is a reproduction of the modern city. Desmond Morris adds that North American zoos are a product and symbol of the alienation of urban life: overcrowding, anxiety, aggression, and nervous disorders characterizing both. Finally, Thomas Birch claims that Western urban spaces are centers of imperial power and that wilderness areas function as prisons. In his words,

Urban centers of Western civilization are the centers of imperial power and global domination and oppression. Whatever comes from them, including classic liberalism, is therefore likely to be tainted by the values, ideology, and practices of imperialism, as the mainstream white man (and his emulators) seeks to discharge (impose) his "white man's burden," the burden of his "enlightenment," on all the others, of all sorts, on this planet.

According to Birch, Western cities are centers of imperialist ideas about nature. To be allowed into civilization, he argues, wildness must be confined and regulated. And if the wildness of distant wilderness must be confined, then it is even more urgent to confine and control the wildness at the heart of the city. The city is therefore precisely where nature, wildness, and animals should be—safe under the constant regulatory gaze of zoo staff and the public. Within the city, exotic wild animals may only be experienced in the spatial confines and under the regulatory constraints of the modern zoo. This perspective highlights that caring for these animals is inevitably an expression of power over them: at the urban zoo and, increasingly so, also in the wild, captive animals depend completely upon human care for their survival. In the words of president and CEO of the Phoenix Zoo Bert Castro: "I'm a firm believer that animals have to be managed wherever they are because of all of the encroachment [and] the burdens that are put upon them. I believe that if you don't have people looking out, managing, and caring for them, animals will disappear and go extinct. That's the bottom line. We've seen it happen."

Such ideas about the human domination of nature and the city's alienation from this nature reinforce the bifurcated relationship between nature and culture. Within this relationship, nature connotes a sphere of authenticity and purity, of an ultimate other. Neil Smith frames this approach as "first nature"—defined as a primary, pristine, and abundant external nature untouched by human activity. In contrast, "second nature" is defined as those forms of nature that have been transformed by human activity. Like many conservation institutions, zoos are founded upon the traditional separation between humans and animals and between culture and nature that exists under the "first nature" paradigm. Thus, zoos ironically reinforce the ideals behind the alienation of nature and its destruction—the very ideals that they arguably fight against as conservation institutions.

The nature-culture divide is indeed quite prevalent in the operations and design of contemporary North American zoos. As part of its location in the metropolis, the zoo offers an affordable escape from urban life into what some of the interviewees here have referred to as an "illusion of nature." Jim Breheny, Bronx Zoo director, elaborates in an interview: "My job is to instill in these people that have absolutely no connection whatsoever to nature anymore the appropriate sense of awe, respect, and appreciation for animals." The escape that the zoo provides for its visitors is their transplantation from the urban space in which they live into a completely different space that is natural and wild. "Our guests come here to get that respite from the urban environment," says Susan Chin, vice president of planning and design and chief architect at the Bronx Zoo. "You have places to go where you can see trees and squirrels and ducks and muskrats," she adds, referring to these places as oases, even as Eden. Paul Harpley, manager of interpretation, culture, and design at the Toronto Zoo, observes, "Without the city, there would also not be a zoo in the way we think about zoos, because we wouldn't need to bring the other to the urban." The dual existence of the zoo in between the natural and the urban makes it into what Leo Marx refers to as a "middle landscape"—a "machine in the garden" or, even more relevant, a "garden within a machine." The intensely focused, close, and clear sight of nature produced at the zoo speaks not only to the beauty of nature but also to the technical ability to reconstruct that beauty and make it even more perfect than nature.

Zoogeography: Globalizing the City

It's my desire to try to expose people to habitats around the world. Donna Fernandes, president and CEO, Buffalo Zoo

The zoo appeals to the public by associating itself with nature. But instead of introducing city people to the nature in their own backyards, zoos usually provide a vicarious journey into a distant and exotic nature in a faraway land. "Who can afford to go to Africa right now?" asks the Bronx Zoo's Susan Chin. Visiting the zoo "is like a family vacation," she adds. Like other vehicles of mass communication, including the National Geographic magazine and nature programs shown on television, the zoo provides its visitors with a highly visualized local experience of a disappearing global nature. Yet unlike televised presentations, the zoo's representation of nature promises an authentic experience of that nature. In line with this goal, nature at the zoo is typically organized according to geographical zones. For the most part, this organization is based on mappings of the world into continents, such as Africa and Eurasia. Zoo professionals refer to this geographical emphasis as "zoogeography."

Zoogeography is the study of the distribution patterns of animals in nature and of the processes that regulate these distributions. It is a specific interpretation of nature in which pockets of nature are identified by their geography (for instance, Africa, the Americas), rather than their habitat (desert, rainforest) or taxonomy (primates, reptiles). This approach translates into a continent-based organization of the zoo. The Toronto Zoo was the first to introduce zoogeography design on a large scale. The zoo's vision of nature is encoded and provided to zoogoers in its map, with exhibits organized within color-coded geographic regions traversed by walking paths. Paul Harpley of the Toronto Zoo is proud that his zoo "practically has the whole world represented." This encyclopedic wholeness echoes the zoo's utopian aspiration to create another world, in effect helping to define real nature as that which can be found only in exotic places.

The ambition to render the entire world, as represented in assemblages of animals and habitats, subordinate to the controlling vision of the spectator is not new. It was already present for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, in the form of Wyld's Great Globe, a brick rotunda into which the visitor entered to see plaster casts of the world's continents and oceans. The spectacular power of such world representations stems from their design to afford a vantage point over a micro-world that claims to be representative of a larger totality.

Within the walls of the average contemporary zoo, enormous distances of both space and time shrink, and the most profound variations in climate and landscape collapse. Penguins from the Antarctic swim a few yards away from Kenyan lions, while giraffes roam near polar bears. Zoogoers move through the species and landscapes in whatever pattern and at whatever pace they choose. At the same time, this movement is also very much planned and geared toward producing a particular nature experience. Among its other characteristics, this experience must be instantaneous. According to Rick Brusca of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: "I think Americans are just too lazy. They want instant gratification and they don't want to have to spend all day driving around looking for zebras. They want to go to a zoo and see one in a cage. It's terrible, but if you are an American with a different point of view then you go visit Africa and visit the big game parks ... And it's a wonderful experience—a million times better than a zoo."

Notwithstanding, most zoos require a great deal of walking, something that many Americans at the dawn of the twenty-first century find hard to do. At the Buffalo Zoo, for example, the zoogoer who desires to see the gorillas, lions, and giraffes must first traverse most of the zoo; and it can take visitors four to six hours to tour the North Carolina Zoo, with over five miles of trails. Aside from hinting toward nature hikes and connecting zoogoers with their own physical body, the walk is also necessary for establishing an authentic sense of difference between the geographic regions represented in the zoo's space.


Excerpted from Zooland by IRUS BRAVERMAN Copyright © 2013 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Stanford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xiii

Introduction 1

1 Naturalizing Zoo Animals 25

2 Classifying Zoo Animals 51

3 Seeing Zoo Animals 71

4 Naming Zoo Animals 92

5 Registering Zoo Animals 111

6 Regulating Zoo Animals 127

7 Reproducing Zoo Animals 159

Conclusion 186

Notes 195

Bibliography 243

Index 255

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