Sunday, February 20, 2005

Zoo riddles

Paul Kingsnorth, who on 15 Feb wrote a nice reflection in his blog on activism that criticised excessive zeal surrounding gay penguins in a German zoo, may enjoy this story:

Two women sacked from their jobs caring for a gorilla in the US have sued their ex-employer for allegedly ordering them to show their breasts to Koko the "talking" gorilla as a way of bonding.. Koko knows 2000 words in sign language.

Zoos are on borderline areas of humanity, where the cruelties and paradoxes of the human place in the world are often clearly apparent. What do we do to animals? What do they do to us? (Franz Kafka’s Report to the Academy remains an important text in this regard).

I continue to struggle with the concept and practice of zoos. A classic illustration of where they can work for good is Howletts , where the late John Aspinall pioneered the captive breeding of endangered species including lowland gorillas and Siberian tigers. I once spent an amazing day there with the scientist Roger Short and Aspinall himself – a good deal of it communing with gorillas. Aspinall was a remarkable man, but not a pleasant one.

Another important figure is David Hamilton, who played a role in turning such places as the Seattle Zoo and the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum into more humane and progressive institutions.

David, who I who I met and wrote about in the late 90s, was an architect by training and is real visionary. He went to work in zoos because he hated them (as a student in the 60s he had a summer job in the London Zoo where Guy the Gorilla was locked for years in a small concrete cell, rocking backwards and forwards like Kaspar Hauser) . Last I heard, David Hamilton went to Australiato run the Museum of Victoria. If anybody knows his whereabouts, I’d love to hear it.

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