Zooland: The Institution of Captivity

Zooland: The Institution of Captivity

Zooland: The Institution of Captivity

Zooland: The Institution of Captivity


This book takes a unique stance on a controversial topic: zoos. Zoos have their ardent supporters and their vocal detractors. And while we all have opinions on what zoos do, few people consider how they do it. Irus Braverman draws on more than seventy interviews conducted with zoo managers and administrators, as well as animal activists, to offer a glimpse into the otherwise unknown complexities of zooland.

Zooland begins and ends with the story of Timmy, the oldest male gorilla in North America, to illustrate the dramatic transformations of zoos since the 1970s. Over these decades, modern zoos have transformed themselves from places created largely for entertainment to globally connected institutions that emphasize care through conservation and education.

Zoos naturalize their spaces, classify their animals, and produce spectacular experiences for their human visitors. Zoos name, register, track, and allocate their animals in global databases. Zoos both abide by and create laws and industry standards that govern their captive animals. Finally, zoos intensely govern the reproduction of captive animals, carefully calculating the life and death of these animals, deciding which of them will be sustained and which will expire. Zooland takes readers behind the exhibits into the world of zoo animals and their caretakers. And in so doing, it turns its gaze back on us to make surprising interconnections between our understandings of the human and the nonhuman.


Timmy the gorilla was born in Cameroon in 1959. He was captured in 1960, barely a year old, by gorilla hunter Dr. Deets Pickett. The New York Times interviewed Pickett about his transfer of eight more baby gorillas to the United States that same year. He described the journey as a harrowing ordeal, with the infant gorillas arriving “half-dead from cold, respiratory ailments and lack of motherly love.” Pickett continues: “I got eight baby gorillas in Yaounde, Cameroon.… The youngest were grieving for their mothers, who had been killed by the natives. At Douala on the seacoast… all collapsed with heatstroke and one died. At Paris, where it was cold, two more died of pneumonia. When we arrived in New York, five were unconscious, Hibou nearly dead.” For the next flight from New York to St. Louis, “two of the baby gorillas rode with Dr. Pickett in the cabin… the other two, moaning and grumbling, were carried, crated, in the cargo hold.” Fortunate to survive capture and transfer to the United States, Timmy was sold to the Memphis Zoo for approximately five thousand dollars. Six years later, Timmy was sold and transferred from Memphis to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.

Timmy had very little social experience and was quite awkward around other gorillas, spending most of his time in a solitary enclosure. Over the years, he showed little interest in females, despite two introductions arranged by zookeepers. By 1990, the zoo decided to provide Timmy with an experienced companion, and female gorilla Kribe-Kate was transferred from the Kansas City Zoo. Kate . . .

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