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On a rainy day in May 1988, a lowland gorilla named Willie B. stepped outdoors for the first time in twenty-seven years, into a new landscape immersion exhibit. Born in Africa, Willie B. had been captured by an animal collector and sold to a zoo. During the decades he spent in a cage, zoos stopped collecting animals from the wild and Americans changed the ways they wished to view animals in the zoo. Zoos developed new displays to simulate landscapes like the Amazon River basin and African forests.
Exhibits similar to animals' natural habitats began to replace old-fashioned animal houses. But such displays are only the most recent effort of zoos to present their audiences with an authentic experience of nature. Since the first zoological park opened in the United States in Philadelphia in 1874, zoos have promised their visitors a journey into the natural world. And for more than a century they have been popular places for education and recreation: every year more than 130 million Americans go to zoos to look at the animals and enjoy a day outdoors.
The first book-length history of American zoos, "Animal Attractions" examines the meaning of nature in the city by looking at the ways zoos have assembled and displayed their animal collections. Situated literally and culturally in the American middle landscape, zoos are concrete expressions of longstanding tensions between wildness and civilization, science and popular culture, education and entertainment. In their efforts to promote nature appreciation, they reveal much about how our culture envisions the natural world and the human place in it and how these ideas have changed.
Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 Chapter One: Animals in the Landscape 11 Chapter Two: Who Belongs in the Zoo? 41 Chapter Three: The Wild Animal Trade 71 Chapter Four: Zoo Expeditions 100 Chapter Five: Natural Settings 130 Chapter Six: Zoos Old and New 162 Notes 187 Index 233
Elizabeth Hanson is a historian of science and Director of Special Projects at The Rockefeller University. She is the author of "Achievements: A Century of Science for the Benefit of Humankind, 1901-2001".
&i;'An excellent summary of an often-ignored subject... Hanson covers the social evolution of how we have seen zoos, and delves into changes in how zoos see themselves.'&o;
- Adrian Barnett, New Scientist