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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Tiger on prowl on roads ! aborgines taken as exhibits - the human Zoo

Are you fascinated at animals ? When was the last time you visited a Zoo – in Chennai, what was your reaction to rumours that animals had escaped Vandalur zoo during Vardah cyclone ??

Zoo, over the globe could be more than 200 years old and private collection of wild animals in captivity could be older still.  These collections called menageries,  have existed even earlier and some were travelling menageries too.  Alexander the Great, Chinese Empress Tanki and British colonial bosses have been known to have kept  these imperial collections.  Edward Balfour, a Scottish Surgeon is associated with creation of museums at Madras and Bangalore and a zoo in Madras.  Today, modern zoos continue to revolutionise. Many have been transitioning from being only display facilities to becoming institutions based on education and wildlife conservation.

Though the infrastructure is well built and lot spent on security and staffing, we do hear about animal escapades now and then.  Recent is that of Sunny from her habitat at Virzinia Zoo.  It’s an unusual search that has captivated animal lovers around Norfolk, Va., for days: Bloodhounds, infrared cameras and even drones have been used — all to try to find Sunny, a female red panda.  Though it was found missing on Monday, extensive searches by workers and volunteers inside the zoo and in surrounding neighborhoods had produced no credible sightings by late Friday. Sunny, who measures 34 inches long — half of which is her tail — is 19 months old. That makes her a young adult capable of reproducing. It might have been her habitat mate, a red panda named Thomas, who caused her to leave, Greg Bockheim, the executive director of the zoo, said in an interview on Friday. In preparation for the one day a year that red pandas mate, Thomas may have been pursuing her too closely, and she either left or lost her footing during his aggressive pursuit. Though red pandas are not diggers or jumpers, they are agile climbers. The open exhibit is surrounded by tall oak trees that she could have easily have reached.

Away on the roads of Sicily, a Bengal tiger caused mass panic after escaping form a travelling circus. The predatory beast escaped its captors in Monreale, where it managed to flee to outside people's homes. Members of the public took refuge inside buildings as the emergency services scrambled to cage the big cat. With an interested crowd gathered, circus staff and armed police managed to cage the escaped animal. 

If you ever thought that keeping animals caged is cruel, read on some more -  The Human Zoo is a book written by the British zoologist Desmond Morris, published in 1969. It is a follow-up to his earlier book The Naked Ape; both books examine how the biological nature of the human species has shaped the character of the cultures of the contemporary world. The Human Zoo examines the nature of civilized society, especially in the cities. Morris compares the human inhabitants of a city to the animal inhabitants of a zoo, which have their survival needs provided for, but at the cost of living in an unnatural environment. Humans in their cities, and animals in their zoos, both have food and shelter provided for them, and have considerable free time on their hands. But they have to live in an unnatural environment, and are both likely to have problems in developing healthy social relationships, both are liable to suffer from isolation and boredom, and both live in a limited amount of physical space.

The Human Zoo is different and sadly was a reality as reported in this news item in ABC (

Up to 20 Aboriginal people were taken from northern Australia in the 19th  & 20th centuries to be exhibited alongside animals in what was called The Human Zoo. Along with tens of thousands of other people, they were put on display across Europe and North America until at least 1940. Today Rottnest Island is a popular holiday spot, but few realise the island's dark past as a prison for Indigenous men. Palm Island elder Walter Palm Island said it was a privilege to meet the remains of an ancestor, found mummified in North America, back on home soil.

"Looking at the images and pictures of the ancestors, I can see the pain and suffering they had in the expressions on their face. And how degraded they were – explained one and added "They lost a lot of their self-esteem and confidence in themselves as human beings. They were treated as animals."Mr Palm Island's ancestor died in the late 19th  century — he was one of about 35,000 people who were exhibited in human zoos between the early 1800s and World War II. "They were displayed as cannibals. Man eaters. The missing link between man and monkey, for audiences in search of exoticism and the thrill of the unknown," he said.

Philip Rang, an Australian cinematographer, is working on a documentary that retraces some of these human stories and has just returned from filming on Palm Island. He said about 20 Aboriginal people were taken from there and Ingham in north Queensland. "They first got loaded up in Townsville and taken down to Sydney. And so they wouldn't escape, they were stripped of all their clothes and put on a boat." The human zoos also exhibited people from Africa, the Pacific and Asia. Mr Rang said it was a justification for colonisation. "They would travel to faraway lands and say look at what we discovered. Not only have we found spices and herbs and raw materials, but we also found these peoples."

One of the documentary's directors,  hopes it will discourage a repeat of history.  "It was the way to justify the domination of the world. These people victim of that. But we don't want to make a political film, we just want to give the facts and tell the story of these people who were completely forgotten."

For Mr Palm Island, the documentary is a chance for his people to build a greater sense of identity. "Australian Aboriginal history hasn't been told and the plight of Australian Indigenous people and what really happened to them," he said. The documentary will be first shown in France in June.

Sad to read about the cruel man !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

28th Jan 2017. 


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