The spread of empires in the nineteenth century brought more than new territories and populations under Western sway. Animals were also swept up in the net of imperialism, as jungles and veldts became colonial ranches and plantations. A booming trade in animals turned many strange and dangerous species into prized commodities. Tigers from India, pythons from Malaya, and gorillas from the Congo found their way – sometimes by shady means – to the zoos of major U.S. cities, where they created a sensation.
Zoos were among the most popular attractions in the United States for much of the twentieth century. Stoking the public's fascination, savvy zookeepers, animal traders, and zoo directors regaled visitors with stories of the fierce behaviour of these creatures in their native habitats, as well as daring tales of their capture. Yet as tropical animals became increasingly familiar to the American public, they became ever more rare in the wild. Tracing the history of U.S. zoos and the global trade and trafficking in animals that supplied them, Daniel Bender examines how Americans learned to view faraway places and peoples through the lens of the exotic creatures on display.
Over time, as the zoo's mission shifted from offering entertainment to providing a refuge for endangered species, conservation parks replaced pens and cages. The Animal Game recounts Americans' ongoing, often conflicted relationship with zoos, decried as anachronistic prisons by animal rights activists even as they remain popular centres of education and preservation.
Introduction: The Zoo Parade
1. The Elephant’s Skin: Animals and Their Visitors
2. The Voyage of the Silverash: The Big Business of Tropical Animals
3. Jungleland: The Money in Wildlife
4. The Monkeys’ Island: The New Deal Builds a Modern Zoo
5. Aping: African Animals on Zoo Stages
6. Don’t Feed the Keepers: The Labor and Care of Zookeepers
7. The Zoo Man’s Holiday: Adventuring for the Zoo
8. My Animal Babies: Caring for Endangered Species
9. Dangerous Safari: Conservation at the End of Empire
Conclusion: Searching for the Yeti
On Zoo Sources
Daniel E. Bender is the Canada Research Chair in Global Culture and Professor of History at the University of Toronto.
"What emerges is a story of adaptation and survival that exposes the modern zoo as 'a third nature' [...] Those who are ethically opposed to zoos will find plenty here to strengthen their case. But with zoos' power of reinvention, it seems likely that this 'third nature' will be with us for some time."
– Henry Nicholls, Nature
"A fascinating history lesson on zoos in the USA, from their beginnings at the end of the nineteenth century through to the 1970s [...] Each chapter of The Animal Game is riveting and meticulously evidenced [...] The reason why Bender's book shines is not only his philosophical musings, but his intricate weaving of the histories of ordinary and extraordinary people and animals that have played a documented part in the narratives of U.S. zoos."
– Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, LSE Review of Books
"Bender provides a high-level history of urban zoos in the 20th-century U.S. Sourced from the libraries and archives of several zoos, this book and its supplemental digital content shine a light on zoo history that was previously kept private."
– J. R. Page, Choice
"A fascinating transnational labor, social, and cultural history of the American zoo. Bender brilliantly shows us how workers around the world participated in the creation of a popular American institution, including merchants in Singapore who sold caged animals to dealers, East African workers who captured wild animals under horrific conditions, and the wives of self-styled 'zoo men', who raised countless orphaned 'zoo babies' after World War II. Well-written and impressively researched, The Animal Game is a groundbreaking book."
– Janet Davis, author of The Gospel of Kindness: Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America
"This book could not be more timely. American zoos are contested spaces today, caught between heated debates about conservation and confinement. In seemingly effortless prose backed by impeccable research, Bender shows us how today's zoos came to be. After reading this book, you'll never go to the zoo in the same way again."
– Jane Desmond, author of Displaying Death and Animating Life: Human–Animal Relations in Art, Science, and Everyday Life
"This moving account of the animals that have come to populate zoos ranges from hidden histories of empire, celebrity, and taxidermy to consideration of the ways that institutions associated with prisons, slums, and asylums might affect their inhabitants. Mixing labor history across species lines with keen cultural analysis, this is a story of enclosure that opens out in remarkable ways."
– Kristin Hoganson, author of Consumers' Imperium: The Global Production of American Domesticity
"In The Animal Game, Daniel Bender offers a fresh perspective on the twentieth-century history of American zoos. His informative and engaging account includes vivid portraits of human and nonhuman actors, as it details the business, the politics, and the ethics of the acquisition and display of living animals."
– Harriet Ritvo, author of Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History