The history of humans in zoos

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

As I may have mentioned, I'm no great fan of zoos; at worst they seems little more than prisons where humans gawp at the inmates, not all of whom are kept in decent conditions; at best, well, ...

I never dreamt, however, that humans were once exhibited in zoos, but we [*] were.  I learnt this from a drama about the Berlin Charité hospital in the late 1890s.  And yet I could hardly believe it, so I looked it up to make sure; and my view of humanity – already pretty dim – dropped another notch or two.  It was a widespread practice, it seems.  And don't think it didn't happen in your country because it likely did.  At the very least you might try to find out.

How did I not know this already I asked myself.  We Europeans have kept very quiet about this shame.  What were we thinking?  Well, I think it's pretty obvious what we were thinking.  The practice went on well into the 20th century and some of the pictures on these websites are hard to bear.

For more details, see this BBC report from 2011, this feature from in 2014, and this from theplacidzebra in 2015.

Meanwhile, I see that at the August CITES meeting, European zoos persisted with their campaign to be allowed to continue to import young African elephants.  Inevitably, they say this is for "conservation".


* The "we" here is disingenuous.  "we" "civilised" Europeans weren't exhibited; we were the ones doing the gawping.  It was "lesser" peoples who were subject to scrutiny.



Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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