|Tiger at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans (Wikimedia Commons)|
Legal historians will be interested in the shift Braverman describes from zoos as sites of entertainment, a variation on the old menagerie style collection of animals, preferably exotic, that would then perform various colonialist and empire-building functions, to the (arguably) more laudable conservationist rationale and its accompanying practices often targeted at educating adults and children about species and habitat decline and destruction. The real animals are “just the hook” as one of Braverman’s interview subjects, Jim Breheny of the Bronx Zoo, puts it. (P. 41.) They are meant to draw you in. What they draw you into, as Braverman’s book details, is a world of contradictions. Braverman calls what she has found a Foucauldian “power of care,” minute in its regulation of the daily lives of zoo animals and profound in its reach into such fundamental aspects of the animals’ lives as the question of which animals are allowed to reproduce and which are not, which will be put on board “Noah’s Ark” and saved and which will not. The regimentation of the animals’ lives serves another disciplinary end: “Whereas once zoos were in the business of entertainment through taxonomic exhibitions,” Braverman writes, “now they discipline the public into caring about nature.” (P. 90.)
Braverman locates the origins of the shift from the American zoo’s focus to conservation and care in the 1970’s. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is an important marker, as it prohibited zoos from obtaining new animals from the wild. This put pressure on zoos to coordinate their efforts and their animals in an attempt to maintain a maximum amount of genetic diversity in their animal populations using the “living founders” that came from the wild.More at Jotwell.