The Ark and Beyond: The Evolution of Zoo and Aquarium Conservation

The Ark and Beyond: The Evolution of Zoo and Aquarium Conservation


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Scores of wild species and ecosystems around the world face a variety of human-caused threats, from habitat destruction and fragmentation to rapid climate change. But there is hope, and it, too, comes in a most human form: zoos and aquariums. Gathering a diverse, multi-institutional collection of leading zoo and aquarium scientists as well as historians, philosophers, biologists, and social scientists, The Ark and Beyond traces the history and underscores the present role of these organizations as essential conservation actors. It also offers a framework for their future course, reaffirming that if zoos and aquariums make biodiversity conservation a top priority, these institutions can play a vital role in tackling conservation challenges of global magnitude.

While early menageries were anything but the centers of conservation that many zoos are today, a concern with wildlife preservation has been an integral component of the modern, professionally run zoo since the nineteenth century. From captive breeding initiatives to rewilding programs, zoos and aquariums have long been at the cutting edge of research and conservation science, sites of impressive new genetic and reproductive techniques. Today, their efforts reach even further beyond recreation, with educational programs, community-based conservation initiatives, and international, collaborative programs designed to combat species extinction and protect habitats at a range of scales. Addressing related topics as diverse as zoo animal welfare, species reintroductions, amphibian extinctions, and whether zoos can truly be “wild,” this book explores the whole range of research and conservation practices that spring from zoos and aquariums while emphasizing the historical, scientific, and ethical traditions that shape these efforts. Also featuring an inspiring foreword by the late George Rabb, president emeritus of the Chicago Zoological Society / Brookfield Zoo, The Ark and Beyond illuminates these institutions’ growing significance to the preservation of global biodiversity in this century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226538464
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 02/21/2018
Series: Convening Science: Discovery at the Marine Biological Laboratory Series
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 949,660
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 16.70(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ben A. Minteer holds the Arizona Zoological Society Endowed Chair in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He is coeditor most recently of After Preservation: Saving American Nature in the Age of Humans, also published by the University of Chicago Press. Jane Maienschein is university professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and fellow and director of the History and Philosophy of Science Project at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. She is coeditor most recently of Visions of Cell Biology: Reflections Inspired by Cowdry’s “General Cytology,” also in the Convening Science series and published by the University of Chicago Press. James P. Collins is the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He is coauthor of Extinction in Our Times: Global Amphibian Decline.

Read an Excerpt


Animals in Circulation: The "Prehistory" of Modern Zoos

Anita Guerrini and Michael A. Osborne


Humans have collected and displayed nonhuman animals for at least twenty-five hundred years. Some of this history is recorded in the works of Gustave Loisel and Vernon N. Kisling (Loisel 1912; Kisling 2000a). The prehistory of modern zoos encompasses Roman arenas, Hannibal's elephants, and pet monkeys. What these animals have in common, and what they share with the inhabitants of many later menageries and zoos, is that they are classified as exotic: foreign rather than local. These animals were also for the most part wild rather than domesticated, but their essential quality was their foreignness. Dogs and cats as well as apes and monkeys served as pets for ancient Greeks and Romans, but the latter enjoyed much higher status. Exotic animals represented power, both political and social.

At the same time, such animals also held what we would now call scientific significance. Alexander the Great collected animals during his military campaigns to gain prestige, but he also sent many to his former tutor Aristotle for analysis. If there is not a concept of conservation in the modern ecological sense in such collecting, there is a concept of these animals as rare and worthy of study.

The intertwining identities of exotic animals as status objects and as scientific objects continued through premodern history, establishing an instrumentalist perspective on animals that persists today. In other words, animals held value insofar as they were useful and beneficial to humans, whether as pets, food, or transportation or as objects of research. Exotic animals held particular value. As such, their preservation and conservation demanded particular attention, and menageries provided the conditions for their survival in the alien environments of Europe. By the twelfth century, many European monarchs had menageries filled with the spoils of the Crusades and the gifts of diplomatic exchange. The menagerie at the Tower of London began in 1235 with a gift of three leopards from the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II to the English king Henry III. Frederick himself had three menageries. The value of these animals was in their rarity and foreignness, and also in their provenance as diplomatic gifts. The greatest prize in Henry III's menagerie was an elephant presented to him in 1255 by the king of France (Hahn 2003, 13–14). Early modern zoos continued to be the affair of royalty and aristocracy. Neither public education nor conservation in the modern sense of species survival was central to their aims. As we will see below, this changed at the end of the eighteenth century as the modern zoo developed out of its aristocratic origins. Our examples are drawn mainly from France but illustrate the wider European development of zoos. The "prehistory" of the modern zoo reveals underlying contradictions and tensions that continue to figure in modern discourse on zoos as well as in other human uses of animals. The modern, conservation-oriented zoo is a product of its history, both recent and not so recent.


In The Parts of Animals Aristotle commented, "In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous," adding, "We should venture on the study of every kind of animal without distaste; for each and all will reveal to us something natural and something beautiful" (Aristotle 1968). He studied not only the exotic animals Alexander brought back, but every animal he came across, no matter how humble or mundane. He made little distinction between wild and domesticated.

The medieval rediscovery of Aristotle's works led to the revival of natural history. Albertus Magnus's thirteenth-century On Animals included his own observations as well as Aristotle's. Humanist naturalists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries followed Albertus in considering rarity to be one among many reasons to study animals. In the 1550s, Konrad Gessner's encyclopedic four-volume History of Animals (history here meaning natural history) included the rare and exotic such as the rhinoceros and the camel (Albertus Magnus 1999; Gessner 1551–58), but he also described native wild animals such as foxes and domesticated ones such as dogs. Gessner included few New World animals: the guinea pig appeared in the first volume, the armadillo in a supplement. By the end of the sixteenth century, the animal trade between Europe and the rest of the world, intimately linked to exploration and colonization, brought an influx of new animals to Europe. These novel types raised questions of classification and the overall order of nature that Gessner did not address. How did new animals fit into a system that had been thought to be full? These new animals soon made their way to royal menageries.

While naturalists continued to emphasize the medical and culinary usefulness of animals (following the ancient Roman Pliny), they also began once more to recognize the value of animals as scientific objects. Historians differ on the consequences of these changes for animals themselves. In his landmark Man and the Natural World (1983), cultural historian Keith Thomas identified the early modern era as a time of transition in English ideas toward a new recognition of animal cognition and sensibility (Thomas 1983). Other historians have seen the mind-body division drawn by philosopher René Descartes as inaugurating an unprecedented reign of cruelty over animals, particularly in the context of science. Pointing to their lack of speech as evidence, Descartes maintained that animals did not possess a mind or soul as humans did and therefore resembled lifelike machines. Their actions were merely instinctual, and they could not experience pain cognitively. While the new science led to a great number of animal experiments, few experimenters believed animals experienced pain less keenly than humans. They experimented despite the "beast machine" notion, not because of it, and many philosophers refuted these ideas altogether.

Nonetheless, in this period animals remained instruments toward human ends, whether food, entertainment, or scientific knowledge. Although cruelty to animals became increasingly frowned on over the course of the eighteenth century, concern was less for animals than for the effects of cruelty on the human soul and moral character. The English artist William Hogarth neatly summarized this point of view, derived from the thirteenth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas, in his series of engravings titled The Four Stages of Cruelty. Hogarth's protagonist begins his career of crime as a child by torturing a dog and ends on the anatomists' table as an executed murderer. German philosopher Immanuel Kant kept Hogarth's engravings before him in 1780 when he wrote about the moral responsibility of humans toward animals, concluding that they had none, but that cruelty could damage human moral sensibility. Less than a decade later, however, political philosopher Jeremy Bentham asserted that animals, like humans, were capable of happiness and therefore deserving of equal moral consideration with humans. Whether they could speak was irrelevant; it was plain to him that they could suffer (Guerrini 2003, 63–66).


When King Louis XIV began in the 1660s to build his magnificent estate at Versailles, outside Paris, he included a menagerie in his plans. The octagonal menagerie building was among the first to be completed, in 1664. There had long been a royal menagerie at Vincennes, just south of Paris, to supply the royal tables. A 1694 definition of ménagerie referred to "a place built next to a country house to fatten animals, poultry, etc." But alongside the cows and sheep at Vincennes there were also lions and elephants, many of them employed in animal combats. In the 1670s, a "valiant cow" fought off a lion and a wolf in a staged battle (Loisel 1912, 2:99).

The king's vision for Versailles included fierce wild animals that exemplified royal power (the lion, Alexander the Great's symbol, was a particular favorite) as well as smaller and less fierce but still exotic animals. Many of these came from new French colonies, while others were diplomatic gifts. Among them, several species of exotic birds modeled courtly behavior. Versailles was preeminently a place of social interactions, and animals played a central role not only in the menagerie, but also in the Labyrinth, built in the 1670s. Here, among fountains with lifesized animal sculptures, courtiers could enjoy cultured conversation (Guerrini 2015, 173–77; Mabille and Pieragnoli 2010).

Animals circulated into and out of Versailles. Louis XIV's chief minister Colbert employed a man to travel the world and collect a large number of animals; something like one hundred ostriches came to Versailles between 1687 and 1694. The collection, transport, and maintenance of these animals employed dozens. Artists drew the animals, poets described them in verse, and the octagonal central building, from which one could see the entire zoo — a panopticon — hosted lavish dinners (Mabille and Pieragnoli 2010).

Two years after the menagerie opened, Colbert inaugurated the Paris Academy of Sciences. The physician Claude Perrault soon initiated a program of human and animal dissection. Among the first animals to be dissected was a lion that died at Vincennes in June 1667, followed over the next two decades by numerous animals from Versailles. This program had multiple objectives; comparative anatomy was only one of them. Academicians regularly observed animals at Versailles and Vincennes in life as well as in death and debated their behavior and diet. They speculated on the differences between native and exotic animals and on similar animals from widely differing places. They struggled to place animals within familiar classificatory and etymological categories. They measured them and drew their internal and external parts. Some of this work appeared in the 1670s in the form of two lavish volumes, funded by the king, on the natural history of animals. These volumes glorified the king and the exotic animals in his possession while also raising serious scientific issues of anatomy and classification (Guerrini 2015, 128–64).

Was conservation among the academicians' goals? If conservation meant keeping animals alive in captivity, yes. But a broader vision of animals' lives in their own environments emerged only fitfully. Although the images of the animals in Perrault's Memoirs for a Natural History of Animals depicted them in natural environments — unlike earlier works of natural history — the environments were not their native ones, but Versailles itself or idealized classical landscapes. Animals from widely differing locales, such as the Canadian and Sardinian deer and Old and New World monkeys, appeared together. Their status as wild animals in confinement seldom merited comment, as opposed to their value as exotic exemplars of royal power.

Perrault recognized the uniqueness of these specimens. Uniqueness was in part a matter of circumstance: many of the species at Versailles were single specimens (such as the elephant), with at most two or three in residence at any time. Their individuality led Perrault and his contemporaries to emphasize their differences rather than their similarities. Resisting any concept of biological species, and with an imperfect understanding of extinction, Perrault could not develop an idea of conservation in the modern sense. These animals circulated in one direction: from natural environments to unnatural ones (Guerrini 2015, 160–62).

We know less about the relation between the animals at the Tower Menagerie in London and the scientific programs of the Royal Society. Animals were dissected at meetings of the society, and descriptions of some of them appeared in its journal, the Philosophical Transactions, but there was no organized program of research such as existed in Paris. Nehemiah Grew's catalog of the society's "Musaeum," published in 1681, included many exotic animals, either skeletal or stuffed. Grew seldom indicated their provenance, but it is likely that many of them originated in the royal menagerie; others came from private collectors or directly from abroad. The flying squirrel, for example, "was sent from Virginia, its breeding place" (Grew 1681, 20). The absolutist state of Louis XIV allowed the close relationship between his zoo and the Paris Academy of Sciences, a relationship that was much envied but difficult to duplicate in other lands.


Nonetheless, royal menageries such as those at Versailles and at the Tower of London, and a proliferation of private menageries at aristocratic estates from the end of the seventeenth century onward, played important scientific roles in the early modern era (MacGregor 2014; Robbins 2002). They greatly broadened the range of known (and seen) animals. Gessner had included in his natural history many animals he had never seen, and some of his illustrations were obviously drawn from verbal descriptions rather than direct experience (Kusukawa 2010). Perrault and his fellow academicians were scrupulous in their observation and representation of animals, and they influenced contemporary representation. As Grew's catalog shows, menagerie animals held direct connections to natural history collections. The king's elephant, which had figured in paintings and tapestries celebrating the majesty of Louis XIV, died in 1681. Her bones still reside at the Paris Museum of Natural History. Seventy years after she died, the Comte de Buffon, director of the royal botanical garden in Paris, used these same bones in the 1750s to tell a very different story about elephants in his Natural History (Guerrini 2012). Grew's was only one of many catalogs that detailed the numbers of exotic animals in public and private collections.

As animals circulated in premodern Europe, so too did their multiple uses and meanings over time and place and to various audiences. Concepts of species, population, and extinction developed, employing observations made in zoos and observations of museum specimens that often originated in zoos. In these ways and in the expansion of European consciousness afforded by the view of exotic animals, premodern zoos contributed to the eventual recognition by scientists and the public of the necessity for conservation.


We lack a comprehensive history of animal practices across Europe in the nineteenth century, but we know that significant differences in regional and national diets, scientific views, and sensibilities abounded. All three influenced the formation of menageries, zoos, and vivaria. No firm criteria differentiated these sorts of animal collections. The Versailles menagerie had been lavish and expansive, while the early menagerie at the Paris Museum of Natural History appeared to be merely a series of rooms displaying animals. The "zoological gardens" of the nineteenth century connoted somewhat more attention to animals' needs, and vivaria specifically reared animals for scientific study. The history of nineteenth-century French zoos and state-sponsored animal collections, and the collection of exotic animals, intersects with the needs of industrial society. The Industrial Revolution and a gradual movement toward rational agricultural policies in England and the Low Countries conferred greater economic value on domesticated animals. It also inspired a search for appropriate animals for naturalization, acclimatization, and domestication. Even long-domesticated animals found new uses.

Notions of the exotic and foreign, themselves concepts in transition as modern nations took form in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, could be applied indiscriminately. Interest in behavior, diet, and morphology, as well as the aesthetic value and productive capacities of exotic animals, was widespread. Harriet Ritvo's chapter in this volume gives one example of the development of nineteenth-century zoo and conservation practices. The French experience provides another. The introduction of merino sheep in France in the 1780s provides a case study of utilitarian aims and conservation goals. Government interest in improving the quality of French wools led Buffon's collaborator Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton to apply his knowledge of the comparative anatomy of quadrupeds to adapting Spanish merino sheep and other exotic breeds from as far away as Tibet to French soil and climate. Daubenton's many experimental sites included Versailles and the royal farm at Rambouillet, and Spanish merinos at Rambouillet were protected during the Revolution. Although merino sheep ate more than French breeds, Daubenton demonstrated that they also produced finer wool and could therefore enhance France's pastoral economy. Circulating throughout France, merinos were shown at agricultural fairs, and Daubenton read several papers on sheep at the Paris Academy of Sciences. His investigations led to an instruction manual for shepherds and owners, printed and distributed by the Crown, and even a school for shepherds. These efforts to develop best practices of exotic animal care likely spared Daubenton from the fate of the chemist Lavoisier and other savants who died at the guillotine. One might term this conservation, but of a decidedly utilitarian bent (Daubenton 1801).


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Table of Contents

Foreword George Rabb xi

Introduction Zoo and Aquarium Conservation: Past, Present, Future Ben A. Minteer Jane Maienschein James P. Collins 1

Part 1 Protoconservation in Early European Zoos 13

1 Animals in Circulation: The "Prehistory" of Modern Zoos Anita Guerrini Michael A. Osborne 15

2 The World as Zoo: Acclimatization in the Nineteenth Century Harriet Ritvo 27

Part 2 The Rise of Us Zoo and Aquarium Conservation in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries 39

3 Historic and Cultural Foundations of Zoo Conservation: A Narrative Timeline Vernon N. Kisling Jr. 41

4 Teetering on the Brink of Extinction: The Passenger Pigeon, the Bison, and American Zoo Culture in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries Mark V. Barrow Jr. 51

5 American Zoos: A Shifting Balance between Recreation and Conservation Pamela M. Henson 65

6 (Re)Introducing the Przewalski's Horse Nigel Rothfels 77

7 Conservation Constellations: Aquariums in Aquatic Conservation Networks Samantha Muka 90

Part 3 Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Today: Visions and Programs 105

8 Committing to Conservation: Can Zoos and Aquariums Deliver on Their Promise? Rick Barongi 107

9 Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE): Unifying the Conservation Approach of AZA-Accredited Zoos and Aquariums Shelly Grow Debborah Luke Jackie Ogden 122

10 Integrating Ex Situ Management Options as Part of a One Plan Approach to Species Conservation Kathy Traylor-Holzer Kristin Leus Onnie Byers 129

11 Zoos and Gorilla Conservation: Have We Moved beyond a Piecemeal Approach? Kristen E. Lukas Tara S. Stoinski 142

12 Lessons from Thirty-One Years at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Reflections on Aquariums' Expanding Role in Conservation Action Margaret Spring 156

13 The Phoenix Zoo Story: Building a Legacy of Conservation Ruth A. Allard Stuart A. Wells 169

Part 4 Caring for Nature: Welfare, Wellness, and Natural Connections 177

14 Bears or Butterflies? How Should Zoos Make Value-Driven Decisions about Their Collections? Clare Palmer T. J. Kasperbauer Peter Sandøe 179

15 Why Zoos Have Animals: Exploring the Complex Pathway from Experiencing Animals to Pro-environmental Behaviors Alejandro Grajal Jerry F. Luebke Lisa-Anne DeGregoria Kelly 192

16 People in the Zoo: A Social Context for Conservation Susan Clayton Khoa D. Le Nguyen 204

17 From Sad Zoo to Happy Zoo: The Changing Animal Welfare and Conservation Priorities of the Seoul Zoo in South Korea Anne S. Clay 212

18 Wildlife Wellness: A New Ethical Frontier for Zoos and Aquariums Terry L. Maple Valerie D. Segura 226

19 Zoos and Sustainability: Can Zoos Go beyond Ethical Individualism to Protect Resilient Systems? Bryan G. Norton 238

Part 5 The Science and Challenge of the Conservation ARK 253

20 Opportunities and Challenges for Conserving Small Populations: An Emerging Role for Zoos in Genetic Rescue Oliver A. Ryder 255

21 Cloning in the Zoo: When Zoos Become Parents Carrie Friese 267

22 Advancing Laboratory-Based Zoo Research to Enhance Captive Breeding of Southern White Rhinoceros Christopher W. Tubbs 279

23 Beyond the Walls: Applied Field Research for the Twenty-First-Century Public Aquarium and Zoo Charles R. Knapp 286

24 Frogs in Glass Boxes: Responses of Zoos to Global Amphibian Extinctions Joseph R. Mendelson III 298

Part 6 Alternative Models and Futures 311

25 Sustaining Wildlife Populations in Human Care: An Existential Value Proposition for Zoos Steven L. Monfort Catherine A. Christen 313

26 Reflections on Zoos and Aquariums and the Role of the Regional Biopark Craig Ivanyi Debra Colodner 320

27 Today's Awe-inspiring Design, Tomorrow's Plexiglas Dinosaur: How Public Aquariums Contradict Their Conservation Mandate in Pursuit of Immersive Underwater Displays Stefan Linquist 329

28 Zoo Conservation Disembarks: Stepping off the Ark and into Global Sustainable Development Adrián Cerezo Kelly E. Kapsar 344

29 Rewilding the Lifeboats Harry W. Greene 360

30 The Parallax Zoo Ben A. Minteer 370

Acknowledgments 383

Notes 385

References 389

Contributors 431

Index 435

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