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 The Bronx Zoo As Madison Grant hunted the ever-dwindling mammals of North America in the 1890s, he began to dream of creating a zoological park in which the continent’s endangered species could be preserved “in surroundings as nearly as possible similar to those of their native habitat .” “No civilized nation,” he stated, “should allow its wild animals to be exterminated without at least making an attempt to preserve living representatives of all species that can be kept alive in confinement.”1 But Grant had little desire to create an Old World–style game preserve encompassing thousands of acres of fenced-in land on a nobleman’s estate, where species were indeed protected from poachers but where the average citizen could not see the creatures. Grant wanted to locate his zoo in the midst of the nation’s metropolis, New York City, for it was his belief that an American game sanctuary should provide access to the urban public, who would thereby become educated about— and be alerted to the beleaguered status of—their country ’s native fauna. On the other hand, Grant had no interest in building a typical nineteenth-century urban zoological garden. The leading European zoos of the time (e.g., London, Paris, and Antwerp) and their North American emulators (e.g., Philadelphia) measured only about thirty acres in size. Grant was disgusted by these cramped institutions where all the species, irrespective of their particular needs or habits, were locked up like dangerous prisoners in bare, solitary cells of uniform size and shape, lined with tile or cement and fronted with thick iron bars. Grant was determined to create a zoo “entirely divergent ” from the established institutions. He envisioned a zoological park about three hundred acres in size Order is Heaven’s first law, and must be ours, also. The warfare against dirt and disorder must be constant. Rule No. 1 for Employees of the Bronx Zoo (which would make it five times the size of the largest zoo in Europe, the sixtythree -acre Berlin zoological garden). Rather than solitary confinement, the animals would live in groups as in the wild; and instead of cramped, sterile enclosures , they would roam in large, realistic habitats. In this manner, they would receive stimulation from interacting with other creatures and with their environment , and visitors would be able to view and study these healthy animals in beautiful, natural settings.2 Zoological experts of the day thought the idea extreme and wrongheaded, and argued that the public preferred small cages, with one species per exhibit, where the animals could be seen up close and easily identified. But Grant’s novel scheme did resonate amongst at least some segments of a society increasingly aware that the frontier no longer existed and that the nation’s flora and fauna were now completely surrounded—and threatened—by the encroaching forces of modern civilization. Further, many people were entranced by Grant’s vision of the zoological park as a patch of nature in the urban wasteland and a place where the masses could get in touch with the natural setting in which America’s values had first flourished. At a time when cities were dirty, violent, unsanitary breeding places of crime and disease, lorded over by corrupt bosses and overridden by foreigners, the creation of the Bronx Zoo was part of a conscious turn to nature among old-stock Americans, who were at the same time landscaping parks, creating urban playgrounds, reading the stories of Owen Wister, enrolling their sons in the Boy Scouts, and nodding affirmatively as Frederick Jackson Turner explained that it was not the overcrowded city but the wide-open frontier that had forged the American character. Still, as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, Madison Grant simply did not possess the requisite contacts within Tammany Hall to have his concept even considered by the municipality of New York. But then, fortuitously, developments in 1894 provided him the opportunity to obtain the political influence necessary to implement his project. Reforming New York City New York City, observed Grant’s friend Rudyard Kipling, is “a despotism of the alien, by the alien, for the alien, tempered with occasional insurrections of decent folk.” The year 1894 witnessed one of those insurrections, and Grant and his brother DeForest were among the young reformers who helped to lead it. In that year, a number of organizations standing for civic reform created the nonpartisan “Committee of Seventy” for the purpose of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781584658108
Related ISBN
9781584657156
MARC Record
OCLC
667076920
Pages
508
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-31
Language
English
Open Access
No
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