Monday, April 29, 2013

Detroit Zoo chimp show lessons won't be forgotten, thanks to International Zoo News

Dad training Detroit Zoo chimps for their show. 
The zoo community does not usually take criticism well, I’ve discovered, even when it is criticism about history. It was all the more surprising, then, when the International Zoo News accepted my article about the history of the Detroit Zoo chimp shows from 1932 to 1983. They published it in the IZN March/April edition that arrived in my mailbox today.

It appears that Richard Perron, the IZN editor, knew he might get complaints for publishing an article that some may view as hurtful to today’s zoo image. Part of his editorial addressed those concerns, pro-actively and accurately, I believe. Perron wrote:
“…There is no other industry where public opinion about it is so polarised as with zoos. By far the noisiest and most publicised utterances come from the detractors, either philosophically rejecting the keeping of animals or pouncing on some event or situation which they (often) misrepresent as animal cruelty, frequently I think only to justify their importance (and salary). In such a huge, diverse industry there will always be elements which are open to criticism and, like every other industry, there is continual change and improvement. Zoo supporters are usually not so strident in making their case, but might make more use of history to demonstrate how good the modern zoo is and counter some of the charges made by opponents. The article in this issue by Dawn Forsythe is an historical document and records a time when the treatment of animals in zoos and their presentation to the public was not humane and would not now be tolerated in any modern zoo. The article focuses on one specific institution during one period of its existence, the author being a keeper’s daughter, and the temptation to generalise the situation described to other zoos should be resisted and certainly not likened to current practices at that zoo. Some of the issues raised however are lessons which should be kept in mind when developing new visitor entertainments. 
“Zoos have come a long way in their history and discussing negative elements of the past can be no more damaging than reflecting on the misery of the Great Depression which prompted a new attitude to human welfare in the United States. 
“Unpleasant periods of history can be utilized to demonstrate ongoing improvement and to define the future path. Without a knowledge of history there can be no appreciation of the present nor any vision of the future…”

International Zoo News is available by subscription, and articles are not posted online until the year after publication. I have permission, however, to share my article, “Chimp Shows Amuse and Abuse,” with blog readers. 

I’d like to thank Mr. Perron for the opportunity to share the story of the Detroit Zoo chimp show era, and the chimpanzees whose lives were destroyed by it. Thank goodness that zoo era is behind us.

1 comment: