Project management at the Woodland Park Zoo
by Hank Klein, Ph.D.
The nature of human behavior toward animals has historically run the full gamut from wanton murder to selfless nurture. When Adam encountered the serpent in the Garden of Eden, did he forever condemn snakes to an undeserved stigma? Conversely, was Noah, by collecting animals two by two aboard his floating zoo, the first zookeeper and wildlife conservationist?
The presence of the bones of as many as 50,000 cave bears at the site of a Cro-Magnon settlement in Austria indicates that early humans’ ability to destroy wildlife was incredible. even in prehistoric times. Indeed, the early history of zoos is more a story of animal prisons than animal refuges.
The first formal zoo is generally credited to Queen Hatshepsut, an Egyptian ruler in the 15th century B.C. Not content with the usual wildcats, hares and lynxes of lesser Egyptian menageries, the Queen dispatched history’s first animal- collection expedition to bring back exotic monkeys, leopards, birds and wild cattle. These went into her palace zoo where, with her courtiers, she could indulge a whim for feeding snacks to jungle beasts.
That the world’s first zoo goes so far back in time may surprise some peo-pie, but the ancients had all the knowledge and their rulers all the resources to create and maintain complex wildlife collections. Long before Queen Hatshepsut, humans had studied wildlife to improve the hunt. Indeed, their cave paintings of rhinoceros, deer, bison and wild horses demonstrate the extent of their understanding of animal behavior. Early Stone Age humans had already domesticated the dog and goose.
the zoo project manager—a jack of all trades whose negotiating skills must be as strong as his technical knowledge, his fiscal responsibility, his foresight, and his ultimate love for the zoo and its animals.
A SYMBOL OF WEALTH
Early zoos were not public, however. Instead, they were regal indulgences set aside for pure pleasure and political use. In 12th century China, Confucius tells us that the Empress Tanki built herself a deer house entirely of marble. During the Chou Dynasty, Emperor Wen Wang set aside his “park of intelligence” in which he kept exotic animals. As great cities arose, royal menageries began to spring to life with them. King Solomon of Israel was not only a zookeeper, but a tremendous wild animal trader as well. His particular penchant for exotic peacocks, India’s sacred bird, led him to keep them in great numbers.
It was not until Aristotle and the 4th century B.C. did humans develop a more scholarly approach to zookeeping, Alexander the Great, a pupil of Aristotle and probably the first person in history to turn the zoo into an educational institution. made the royal menagerie available to his tutor for the study of wild animals, Alexander was a great collector, and his zoo was huge. In fact, along with his armies marched a unit whose sole mission was to collect from conquered countries all the living animals and zoological knowledge it could find. In addition, when he conquered Egypt, Alexander established the first public zoo. Aristotle might well have been the curator of Alexander’s zoo. His encyclopedia entitled History of Animals described over 300 species of vertebrates.
THE DETERIORATION OF ATTITUDES
Before long, however, humanity’s attitude toward wild animals took an abrupt turn in the wrong direction. Instead of objects of scientific study, they became “show business” on a scale never seen before or since. While Alexander had made his collection available for the advancement of learning, Ptolemy II turned his vast zoo into spectacular shows. The most stupendous of his processions was the animal parade staged for the festival of Dionysus. Twenty-four chariots drawn by 96 elephants headed a milelong parade of chariots pulled by lions, oryxes, ostriches and wild asses. In addition, there were thousands of birds carried along in cages by slaves. Big cats by the dozens (leopards, cheetahs, lynxes), a white bear, brown bears, camels, wild sheep, snakes, and 24,000 Indian dogs were followed by two of the rarest species in captivity at the time: the giraffe and the black African rhinoceros.
Then came the Romans. After collecting a vast assortment of creatures, they offered their worst possible response to the reverence of wildlife- animal combat and slaughter in huge public amphitheaters. First came the hunts. Wildlife was released into an artificial forest. At a sign from the Emperor, Roman citizens fell to hunting the animals. Next came the combats—deadly contests between animals, e.g. elephant vs. bull, rhinoceros vs. bear, lion vs. tiger. Finally, human gladiators were pitted against wildlife in a struggle to the death. Frequently, in a single show, 300-400 animals might be slaughtered.
Most of the emperors and nobles immersed themselves in the excitement. Octavian August oversaw the death of 10,000 men and countless numbers of animals. Julius Caesar sponsored the killing of 400 lions and 20 elephants in one day. The result: the mass extinction of many exotic animals to satisfy the blood-thirsty demands of the citizens of Rome. Eventually, with the decline of the Roman Empire, the animal massacres ended.
THE REEMERGENCE OF ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS
It was not until several hundred years later that the concept of zoological gardens began to emerge once again. Constantine established and maintained several public zoos until the Persians destroyed them in the sixth century. Two hundred years later, Charlemagne, first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, had three royal menageries heavily stocked with exotic birds including falcons to satisfy his penchant for hunting. Bishops and monks in the Empire were charged with responsibility for maintaining animal parks on monastery grounds including a vast assortment of elephants, monkeys, bears, camels and lions given to Charlemagne by other rulers.
Visitors to the Woodland Park Zoo during the animals in cages.
By 1230, King Henry III of England moved himself and an established zoo into the Tower of London, site of the executions of not only Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and others, but also a great number of wild animals through combats modeled after the old Roman games. Fortunately, Henry II also devoted himself to importing exotic animals for exhibition. So popular was his zoo that droves of citizens came from all over the British Isles to stare at the exotic collection of beasts. When Henry decided to make the City of London pay for the construction and upkeep of the animals, he instituted the world’s first municipally-supported zoo. Included in his zoo was a rare polar bear. He and his keeper made daily trips to the Thames River where the bear would catch his own dinner.
The Chinese, meanwhile, had busied themselves with the collection of animals and the construction of zoos. Kublai Khan kept thousands of falcons, leopards, lynxes, lions, boars, bears, deer, rhinos, hippos, camels, porcupines, monkeys, and many fishes. He even carried lions with him to hunt other game.
By the time Marco Polo returned to Europe with his accounts of the Far East, the Romans were once again feeling the old zoo fervor. Pope Leo X set up a menagerie in the Vatican with monkeys, lions, leopards, camels, wolves, civets and Asian elephants. But Cardinal Ippolito topped them all. He kept a “human zoo” filled with slaves: Africans, Indians, Tartars, Moors and Turks.
Exploration of the New World revealed new human-animal relationships. The Indian of North American considered his wild neighbor an instrument for survival—just as the animal predator looked upon his own prey. But the Indian also believed that the wild animal was a brother, never to be treated as an object for amusement and certainly not for senseless slaughter.
To the south, the Aztecs were considered to be highly advanced in ecology. Indeed, they had one of the best zoos the world has ever known. The royal menagerie of Montezuma, Aztec emperor of a great civilization which flourished for centuries, was discovered by Hernando Cortez in 1519 in the city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. According to reports kept by one of Cortez’ soldiers, the zoo contained practically the whole list of Central American fauna and extensive flora as well. The number of birds was so great, it required the services of 300 keepers. The birds of prey, alone, consumed a daily ration of five hundred turkeys. Beyond the cages and pits was a huge lake, then ponds for waterfowl and paddocks for llamas, vicunas, deer and antelope. There were also monkeys, sloths, bison, bears, armadillos, iguanas, giant turtles, anacondas, boa constrictors and even human beings including bearded women, dwarfs and deformed people displayed in cages like the animals. The entire’ operation was served by trained nurses to attend to sick animals and attendants whose chief function was to gather the gorgeous feathers dropped by the enormous collection of ornamental birds. Sadly, one year after Cortez’ arrival, Montezuma and the zoo met their untimely demise. Cortez laid siege to Tenochtitlan and reduced the city to rubble. The starving Indians were forced to kill and eat most of the zoo inhabitants
THE FIRST ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN
The next centuries saw the great expansion of European empires along with the spread of royal zoos. The menagerie of Louis XIV of France stood out in many ways. Unlike its predecessors, his zoo featured animal enclosures fanned out from a central courtyard like the spokes of a wheel from a hub. Furthermore, Louis camouflaged the ugly cages and pits by planting flowers, trees and shrubs around them. This was something new in zoo design—a concentration of animal exhibits with attractive landscaping— in effect, the first zoological garden.
The French Revolution would have probably claimed Louis’ zoo as its victim if not for Monsieur Laimant, zoo director. When besieged by an angry mob demanding the animals be released to feed the starving peasants, he pointed out that some of his charges might easily turn the tables and do some eating themselves. The zoo was left untouched.
The French Revolution did claim another Louis, however, this one the XVI. Following his execution in 1792 the royal menagerie was dissolved, reorganized and moved from Versailles to Paris. The government declared that henceforth the zoo would be open to all citizens, thus becoming the foundations of today’s public zoo.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MODERN ZOO
In the mid-1800s, the caged concept of zoos were radically changed by a German named Carl Hagenbeck. His fishmonger father was an animal lover and a shrewd businessman. When six seals were inadvertently caught in his nets, he put them on exhibit and charged admission to see them. The response was so overwhelming that the senior Hagenbeck became an animal trader. Before long, he had his own private menagerie. The major part of his income, however, was derived from animal dealing which involved the entire family.
Carl Hagenbeck, himself, became an animal dealer, leaving school before he was 15 to ply his father’s passion. Business was good. The jungles of Africa and Asia were filled with creatures in great demand by zoos, circuses, traveling menageries and private collectors around the world. As the demand gradually subsided, however, Hagenbeck looked for other ways to make his living. He began, strangely enough, by exhibiting exotic people to complement his exotic animals. The first of these presentations featured a group of Laplanders. Unlike previous exhibitions of human freaks, however, Hagenbeck treated them with dignity and respect. During their short visit, they lived like Laplanders in a setting meant to represent a miniature Lapland—the first example of what is now called “cultural resonance.”
Hagenbeck followed up with Nubians, Eskimos, Somalis, Indians and more. His work gradually changed back to animals, however, as he went about establishing a circus and eventually a zoo. Hagenbeck’s understanding of animal behavior, gained from his long-term interaction with a variety of exotic creatures, led him to major insights and revolutionary ideas.
In his own words, he wanted to create “a zoological park of a totally different kind from anything that bad been before attempted. I desired, above all things, to give the animals the maximum of liberty. I wished to exhibit them not as captives, confined to narrow spaces, and looked at between bars, but as free to wander from place to place within as large limits as-possible, and with no bars to obstruct the view and save as a reminder of the captivity. I wished my new park to be a great and enduring example of the benefits that can be wrought by giving the animals as much freedom and placing them in as natural an environment as possible. A certain point must be fixed in the garden from which might be seen every kind of animal moving about in apparent freedom and in an environment which bore a close resemblance to its own native haunts.”
When the Hagenbeck Stellingen Zoo opened in 1907, it incorporated Hagenbecks objectives for the modern zoo. Now known officially as the Hamburg Zoo, it is still owned and operated by the Hagenbeck family. Rebuilt in 1948, five years after air raids destroyed much of the zoo, the Hamburg Zoo stands as a tribute to Carl Hagenbeck, just as the modern zoo stands as tribute to his tremendous vision.
From Noah and his Ark to Hagenbeck and his naturalistic exhibits, zoos have historically run the course from makeshift menageries to human sideshows, from royal collections to public institutions, from demeaning cages to replications of nature’s designs. Zoos have not only changed in appearance, but in purpose as well. Originally created to flatter royal egos and then to attract recreational visitors, zoos today are confronting the harsh realities of diminishing wildlife populations and habitats, trying to buffer the impacts of habitat destruction and poaching through breeding and cooperative management of captive animals. But no matter what role zoos play in the conservation of wildlife nor how they exhibit their animals, they will always welcome the widespread enthusiasm of the general public anxious to see exotic creatures from faraway lands.