The Animal Game is a fascinating, ambitious, and deeply researched interpretive history of modern American zoos from the time of their emergence at the end of the nineteenth century to the 1970s. The first title refers to the trade that captured, bought, and sold wildlife in a global commodity chain that until recently kept zoos supplied with the creatures they needed to remain open. The book also traces the experiences of keepers who cared for their animal charges, zoo officials who sought to impose order on the chaotic institutions they led, the Americans who flocked to those institutions, the indigenous people who sometimes found themselves exhibited alongside the wildlife of their region, and the animals themselves that not only resisted capture and confinement but also rarely survived for long in their new homes. Even as zoos helped forge a sense of connection with tropical nations, they have also rendered its animals, landscapes, and people as exotic others, reinforcing a strong sense of taxonomic, geographic, and racial differences. The book offers a series of thematic chapters presented in roughly chronological order. The first, “The Elephant’s Skin: Animals and Their Visitors,” examines the competition that drove American cities to open the first public zoos as a mark of cosmopolitan status. Despite their founders’ dreams of displaying biological hierarchy to promote social order, zoos were places of profound disorder. The next chapter uses the 1937 voyage of the Silverash, with its cargo of 1,500 languishing animals purchased from markets in Singapore and destined for the US National Zoo, to frame an analysis of the perils and profits associated with the international animal trade. Chapter 3 focuses on the work of the flamboyant animal collector Frank Buck, who made much more money from books and movies about his tropical adventures than he did in dealing in wild animals. The following two chapters examine how American zoos responded to the crisis of the Great Depression by using New Deal relief workers to replace cramped cages with new animal houses, monkey islands, and open enclosures and by developing popular gorilla exhibits and trained chimp shows. Chapter 6, “Don’t Feed the Keepers,” explores the working conditions of zookeepers and the relationships they developed with the animals under their care. The final section focuses on the era after World War II when saving animals finally became central to the mission of many American zoos. “The Zoo Man’s Holiday” shows how postwar zoos reimagined the traditional African safari as a bloodless adventure. “My Animal Babies” considers how zoos increasingly came to rely on breeding fauna as the animal trade in Africa and Asia collapsed following decolonization and increased regulation of endangered species. The last chapter examines how zoos rushed to capture animals in Africa as independence loomed on the horizon and how they responded to a new sense of crisis brought on by urban decline and racial conflict, crumbling infrastructure, and a growing public unease with wild animal confinement. Zoo officials reacted by opening sprawling so-called safari parks in the suburbs, crafting more natural-looking exhibits in the cities, and stressing the importance of captive breeding to rescue species threatened with extinction in the wild. Even so, as Bender points out, by the 1970s “the American public was more divided than ever before in their opinion on zoos. Critiques of zoos coalesced, breeding new organizations that today continue to challenge the ethics of keeping animals in captivity” (p. 310). Building from the studies of numerous zoo historians and animal studies scholars, extensive archival work at the handful of zoos with accessible records, relevant memoirs and fictional accounts, and a personal collection of zoo-related ephemera, Bender has constructed the most comprehensive and engaging history of American zoos to date. His book will appeal to environmental historians, cultural historians, animal studies scholars, and anyone interested in the ways that these highly contested sites have both reflected and shaped our thinking about animals, places, and people. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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