Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/April 1889/Zoological Gardens: Their Uses and Management

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By R. W. SHUFELDT, M. D., C. M. Z. S.

RARELY has it been in the history of the world that a city which has become famous as a scientific and literary center has not, sooner or later, inaugurated, developed, and maintained its collection of living wild animals, its zoological gardens. Indeed, in modern times, as of old, in large civilized communities, it has come to be where such establishments are in existence, and kept up to a high state of perfection and growth, that they are the very badge denoting the presence of marked intellectual activity along the lines we have indicated. With respect to the instances of this in history, they are too well known to the general reader to require enumeration here, while we are all familiar with the names of those cities of our own day wherein such institutions are now flourishing.

In modern times, again, the enormous impulse which the biological sciences have received, the far keener appreciation on the part of the reading public in such matters; and the pressing necessity for such material as zoological gardens can alone supply the morphologist, artist, and animal historian, are, we must believe, the principal forces that eventually give birth to these collections.

The uses of a zoological garden to a civilized country are manifold, and not easily to be overestimated. These uses are considerably enhanced if it is established within easy access of large biological museums and libraries. Sometimes it so happens, however, that in a large city where zoological gardens, museums, and libraries exist, the former may be situated several miles from the last two mentioned, and this is the misfortune to which we more particularly refer, and, if it can be avoided, should be by all means.

If properly conducted, a zoological garden sees its chief use in being a powerful auxiliary to those more general schemes undertaken on the part of the state for the benefit of the community at large, in which educational ends are to be met. And in the management of such a garden, everything connected with it should be continually bent in that direction; the managers should ever keep clearly before their minds this fact, that the principal object they have in view is an educational one — that they have under their control an engine capable of diffusing annually among the people an incalculable store of highly useful knowledge. The moment that such an institution sinks to the level of a purposelessly arranged and heterogeneously selected collection of animals, the throngs that stream through the garden grounds will resort there as curiosity-seekers, and will lose sight of the idea that they are in a place and enjoying an atmosphere of culture, refinement, and education. History goes to show that the superb zoological gardens now maintained in London were first opened in 1828, since which time, down to 1887, twenty-four million five hundred and seventy-two thousand four hundred and five visitors were entered upon the register-books of the management. An instant's reflection will be sufficient to convince any friend of education of the benefits that humanity has derived hence, and of the refining influences which have through this center alone been brought into play.

Extensive zoölogical gardens, in addition, open to the masses a long chapter on the life-histories of the animals of their own country, as well as those of foreign lands. Then by the proper methods it becomes easy to bring the visitor face to face with other questions intimately associated with the animals themselves: I refer to their geographical ranges; the physical aspect of the countries they inhabit; and, finally, through the library and lecture system, something about their natural history and structure.

People are by such means enabled to supplement their readings and studies by having the very objects brought before them. At a glance, the striking differences between the Asiatic and African elephants are appreciated through the eye. One soon becomes familiar with the various forms of our American deer, and has a better realizing sense of the fact that the elk resort to the mountain fastnesses as their normal haunts, while our antelope rarely quit the plains. From school-days up, the American youth, by such means, gains a knowledge of the forms of the magnificent representatives of the various faunæ of his land, in comparison with which the illustrations in the text-book, although not to be altogether despised, are inadequate.

Here the sculptor, artist, and engraver can, at their leisure, study the noblest of animal forms under the most advantageous of circumstances. Leopards and pumas may be caught in the very act of a high-noon siesta, or perchance in some short and fiery quarrel, showing all the lineaments of anger characteristic of their race when aroused. Ornithologists may catch for their folios the transitory tints of the glowing plumages of trogons and toucans as they disport themselves in their large, airy cages, in a manner to be achieved under no other conditions. Then, by the aid of camera, brush, and pencil, tints and forms are brought to the eye and hand of the sculptor and engraver, which in time take on material shape in bronze and stone, and the ideas pass into art and design, and thus culture is the gainer in the end.

It is here, again, that a thousand facts each year are brought directly under the observation of the naturalist and specialist in every department of biology—nidification in all its details among birds; all the data in connection with the breeding habits of mammals; and a volume of unwritten lore having reference to the life-histories of our native reptiles and their kin.

Nor is this all, for it is at the zoölogical garden that the morphologist, surrounded as he there is by all the conveniences that civilization can bring, finds that priceless opportunity to carry on his researches upon the structure of animals, in ways that he could not do under any other circumstances; for material is here brought before him that, as a rule, not only admits of the investigation of individual forms, but from its abundance enables him, like Garrod in London, to draw conclusions from the anatomy presented by whole natural groups, and thus science is an enormous gainer.

It will be seen, then, from what has gone before, that not only are great pleasure and enjoyment of a highly elevating character brought to thousands of people annually, who have the opportunity of frequenting a large zoölogical garden, but those ultimate ends of all human activities—education, culture, art, and science—are immensely benefited thereby; and this implies a powerful and constant operation of a good influence for all mankind.

When a city distinguished as being a scientific center, or may-hap the national capital—and this itself may be such a city—determines upon establishing a zoölogical garden within its precincts, a great deal depends upon the site which is chosen for the purpose.

If possible, the form of the grounds should be a regular figure, an oblong being one of the best, with a long side toward the direction whence come the prevailing winds, as this assists in securing good ventilation; and the area should include at least two hundred to two hundred and fifty acres. The site should be within some convenient distance of the city museums and libraries; surely not separated from these by more than three miles at the most. Another matter of great importance is the character of the country, which should be as diversified as possible; and the inclosure should contain a few sizable ponds or a good, strong stream of water, in which event the former can be easily constructed artificially. Old trees in groups; some low, level marshland; and some hills and rocky portions, are all points of extreme natural advantage. These latter features, if marked, usually insure, too, another benefit, for then hilly or broken country is likely to be found immediately beyond the limits of the garden, which, though conducive to the building of handsome suburban residences, is not likely to fill up entirely with houses as the city increases in size; and thus excellent ventilation is secured for all time.

There are several highly important elements which should be paramount in the administration of the affairs of such an institution in order to insure its highest success and most healthy growth and usefulness. Chief among these is the matter of choice of the persons selected to constitute the staff of such a zoölogical garden as we have in mind. Next are the methods of confining and exhibiting the collection of animals of the place; the regulations controlling its sanitation and keeping; and provision of those steps which lead to the public and special workers deriving the greatest amount of benefit from it, in a purely educational point of view, incorporating here the subservience of Science in her diverse ends and means.

In the spring of this year (1888), the Zoölogical Society of London, in addition to its regular staff of officers, employed the following persons: one superintendent, one assistant superintendent, one head keeper, six keepers (first class), ten keepers (second class), eight keepers (third class), three money-takers, one storekeeper, one cook, one office-clerk, one prosector's assistant, one head gardener, nineteen helpers in the menagerie, ten garden laborers, seven artisans, two painters, six laborers, one butcher, two firemen, two night watchmen, and one time-keeper—making a whole force of about eighty-five people, the duties of whom are sufficiently suggested by their designations. It is hardly necessary to say that the gentlemen composing the staff of officers should be selected not only for their executive ability in the departments they severally fill, but likewise for their distinction in some branch of zoölogical science, and more especially vertebrate zoölogy. Of that part of the staff which has just been enumerated above, especial regard should be paid to the selection of the keepers, who should be men fond of animals and their care, gentle and patient, and otherwise particularly fitted for their employment.

A great deal depends upon the various methods adopted of exhibiting the different mammals, birds, and reptiles in the collection, not only so far as the comfort of these is concerned, but the amount of instruction and benefit we derive from the several plans employed. For instance, it would hardly be considered advisable to keep specimens of the Rocky Mountain goat (Mazama) within an inclosure wherein the ground was a dead level, and specimens of the prong-horn antelope (Antilocapra) in another inclosure wherein a rocky hillock of some considerable dimensions might exist: for, in the first instance, the animal would not only be unhappy in his quarters, but would be made incapable of exhibiting a number of his natural traits; while a mass of rocks in the antelope inclosure would be a waste of material, and take up room that the animals might otherwise enjoy.

Prof. Flower, the President of the London Zoölogical Society, in his address on the 16th of June, 1887, to the general meeting, made some excellent remarks upon this point when he said that "the old idea of keeping animals in small, cramped cages and dens, inherited from the Tower and traveling wild-beast shows, still lingers in many places. We have a responsibility to our captive animals, brought from their native wilds to minister to our pleasure and instruction, beyond that of merely supplying them with food and shelter. The more their comfort can be studied, and roomier their place of captivity, the more they are surrounded by conditions reproducing those of their native haunts, the happier they will be, and the more enjoyment and instruction we shall obtain when looking at them." Then continuing, and referring to the London gardens, he said: "Many of our newest improvements are markedly in this direction. I may especially mention the new inclosure for wild sheep near the lion-house in the South Garden, with its picturesque rock-work and fall of water, and the large aviary for herons and similar birds just completed on what used to be called the Water-Fowls' Lawn."

The writer is convinced of the truth of these words, from his own studies of zoölogical gardens in this country and abroad.

Again, to show the bad effects of the overcrowding of animals. Prof. Flower further observed, still confining himself to the London gardens: "The primary habitation of the lions and other large feline animals was the building on the north side of the tunnel, which many of us may remember as a reptile-house, and which has been lately restored as a dwelling-place for the smaller carnivora. The council reports of the period frequently speak of the bad accommodation it afforded to the inmates, the consequent injury to their health, and the disagreeable effects on visitors from the closeness of the atmosphere. In September, 1843, the terrace, with its double row of cages beneath, was completed; and the report of the following spring, speaking of this as 'one of the most important works ever undertaken at the gardens,' congratulates the society upon the fact that the anticipations of the increased health of this interesting portion of the collection, resulting from a free exposure to the external air and total absence of artificial heat, had been fully realized. The effects of more air and greater exercise were indeed said to have become visible almost immediately. Animals which were emaciated and sickly before their removal became plump and sleek in a fortnight after, and the appetites of all were so materially increased that they began to kill and eat each other. This, however, led to an immediate increase in their allowance of food, since which time, it is stated, no further accidents of the kind have occurred.

Very often, when birds are kept in cramped quarters, they can not be induced to show off any of their peculiar habits, much less take to breeding. This was well seen in the case of the herons a year or so ago in the London gardens; for, as soon as these birds were transferred from their limited confines to the large new aviary constructed for them, and inclosing natural waters, trees, and shrubs, they resumed at once some of their more natural habits, while the ibises built in the trees and reared their young. Some mammals and birds bear confinement in narrow habitations better than others; and one can easily imagine that a sloth would tolerate a curtailment of his liberties far better than many species of monkeys would do, or some varieties of parrots than the freedom-loving sea-fowl.

At the Bishop's Gardens in Havana, Cuba, I remember very well a large aviary, in which were confined a considerable number of wild ducks, sea-gulls, and similar birds, and it was a delight to watch them, as they appeared to be fully as contented as in their native wilds, and would sport in the inclosed sheet of water, or preen themselves on the rocks, all day long. Then, some creatures bear being continually looked at better than others, while some have such highly nervous organizations that they should be placed only in the more secluded nooks of the garden, and even then have the means of withdrawing from the public gaze for at least a time. As owls never outgrow their fondness for a hollow stump, bears their climbing-poles, parrots their swing-boughs, and musk-rats their marsh-ways, we should make every endeavor to bring all our ingenuity to our aid in imitating as closely as possible in the gardens their natural conditions. The writer has during his lifetime kept a great many animals in confinement, of all manner of varieties, from a pocket gopher to an eagle, and from a ring-tailed howler-monkey to a turkey-buzzard, and has learned that, notwithstanding the creature may be abundantly supplied with his proper food, you can kill a star-nosed mole if you do not give him the opportunity to burrow in moist, wet ground; or render a porcupine utterly miserable if you do not serve him with the stump of an old tree, some ten feet above the ground, to stretch himself out upon.

Experience has taught us that the best way of exhibiting almost all kinds of reptiles, from the largest varieties of snakes and pythons down to the most diminutive species of lizards and hylas, is in that style of cage wherein the front and sides are formed of large single panes of clear glass. This allows an excellent view of the inmates, and full opportunity to watch and study their habits. On the other hand, the alligators, as representatives of this class, do best in a sluggish pool, with marshy banks, and with flat, mossy rocks and logs to bask themselves upon. Out at West End, in New Orleans, there is a small place of this kind, and the several large alligators I saw in it seemed to be as well contented as though they were enjoying the peculiar advantages of their native bayous; and, as common as these great reptiles are in Louisiana, those at West End always seemed to have more or fewer people intently watching them; and sometimes, even in the broiling noonday sun, one might see one of the oldest and most aristocratic residents of Royal Street stop there for a passing moment, just to "take a glance at the 'gators."

Throughout the garden the names of all the animals should be made known to the visitors by the managers seeing to it that the cages or other receptacles confining them are properly though not too conspicuously labeled. An excellent form of label is a small, water-tight, cast-iron, and painted one, with a glass-slide front. In this the white paper slip may be kept, upon which in plain black letters is printed the name of the animal—that is, its most common name—with its accepted technical name; and a brief statement giving sex and normal geographical range in nature.

However amusing it may be, it also has its other aspects, to see a party of some ten or a dozen people standing before a large tank-cage containing a pair of fur-seals, and, from the absence of a label, not a soul able to divine the name of the creatures contained in it; and perhaps, too, one or more ladies in the group with a seal sack on.

In a country like the United States, where a number of its finest mammals and some birds are rapidly becoming extinct, it devolves as a solemn duty upon the management of a zoölogical garden to secure a goodly representation of these for permanent preservation. Among the mammals which now need such action none is better known than the buffalo, though the Rocky Mountain goat (Mazama), the beaver, and several species of deer stand in the same case; indeed, I presume the day will come to this country when all of our larger mammals will cease to exist in a state of nature, and we shall have to depend upon our gardens and parks for examples of them. Of the birds, our Carolina parrot and roseate spoonbill are conspicuous examples, and it can be only a few years at most when both species will be extinct in this country.

Animals in a zoölogical garden should be grouped, so far as circumstances will admit, into their natural orders of the class to which they belong. For instance, all the dogs, wolves, and foxes, and their nearest allies, should be made to inhabit a den or dens in the same part of the garden, and in all cases special means should be adopted to point out the animals belonging to the country in which the garden is maintained. The system of labeling will do much toward this if carried out as suggested on a previous page; and if keepers and others are intelligent and obliging, as they surely should be, they can accomplish a great deal in a few words to groups of inquiring visitors.

Many questions touching upon special details in administration—as the best means to be adopted to secure desirable acquisitions to the garden, to the methods of exchange, of contracts for food, and similar matters, and whether or not it is desirable to make a small charge to visitors as an entrance-fee—hardly fall within the scope of the present article to discuss.

Modern architecture and artisanship, and present-day knowledge of sanitary engineering and sanitation, with our ever-increasing literature upon the diseases and their treatment in the lower animals, all leave but little to be desired for a superintendent of a zoölogical garden to draw upon for the application of their principles to the institution under his charge. If means be ample, there is not the shadow of excuse why such a place may not be made as inviting as the "gardens of the gods," and cleanliness and purity completely carried out.

One main building always constitutes an inseparable part of a model zoölogical garden, and it is devoted to the offices and study-rooms of the staff, to the lecture-room, to the reading-room and library, to the photographic gallery, to the laboratories and storerooms, and, finally, to a few spare rooms for special purposes.

The lecture-room should be properly fitted up, and made to accommodate a large audience. Here, at certain seasons, a course of free lectures should be delivered on some branch of zoölogy or zoötomy, either by some resident member of the staff, or by specialists.

No well-appointed zoölogical building in connection with a garden would be complete without its reading-room and library. In the latter should be found, in time, all the standard works that have appeared upon the various branches of natural science, and more particularly upon vertebrate zoology and morphology, including, of course, such subjects as classification and geographical distribution of animals, and the reports of other zoölogical gardens and societies. On the reading-tables should appear the various authoritative zoölogical periodicals of the day, and bound volumes of the same should be upon the library shelves. It is an excellent idea to have the walls of such a room as this hung with strong relief maps of the various parts of the world, upon which are portrayed by clear defining lines the several regions as they are described by zoögraphers, showing the natural geographical distribution of animals. Within these areas there might be printed the names of the best-known representatives of the vertebrate kingdom that distinguish them. Such a series of maps or charts would be highly instructive to the visitor, useful at times in the lecture-room, and always a convenience to others.

Few departments will be more important than the photographic gallery, and it should be under the charge of a thoroughly competent photographer, who should also combine in his knowledge a familiarity with the habits of animals, and what is required of him through his art. He can be kept constantly at work photographing the rarer animals. Efforts should be constantly made to catch them in the act of any of their peculiar habits; pictures should be made of their young at all stages, the appearance of the dams at the various periods of gestation, the nesting of the various species of birds, and so on indefinitely. Further, he should be enabled to take photographs of special dissections of the prosector, and of casts and skeletons, and similar work. A full series of these photographs should be bound and kept on file in the collections of the establishment, as they will be of the very highest importance to the scientific taxidermist, artist, engraver, zoölogist, and others.

From one cause or another, a certain proportion of the animals die every year; and in the year 1887, in the London Gardens, for example, there were added twenty-five hundred and twenty-five animals of the three classes of vertebrates—quadrupeds, birds, and reptiles; and during the same year nine hundred and twenty-five died. Now, these dead animals are in the majority of cases of inestimable value, and no such material should ever be allowed to go to waste. It should come immediately under the charge of the prosector, so he may promptly direct what use is to be made of it. As a rule, it is not desirable for the garden to accumulate an anatomical collection, though it is highly useful for the prosector to have on hand preparations of certain forms; but, in the main, large skeletons or bodies of animals should be turned over to the city museums. In the case of duplicates, or where animals have died and their anatomical structure has been previously described, they may sometimes be sold or exchanged for living animals, or otherwise disposed of. Often small species can be at once consigned to alcohol, for the future use of the prosectorial department. Rare forms that are but slightly known morphologically should be thoroughly described and figured, either by the prosector or by special workers to whom such material may be sent for the purpose. These descriptions and figures should constitute the main feature of the published reports of the garden, and they should be got out in a style as handsome as printer and engraver can make them, and bound in a manner compatible with their importance and value. They will not make up, however, the entire quarterly report, as in it also will appear the engravings and descriptions of hitherto unfigured animals, and a general account of the quarterly proceedings of the entire establishment, and other matters of interest.

Thus it will be seen that the prosectorial department is one of the most important connected with the institution, and in due time will contribute to the common stock of scientific knowledge a mass of information of a peculiarly valuable character, and of a kind, as a rule, not easily obtainable in any other way.

Taken, then, in its entirety, a zoölogical garden, such as I have attempted to outline in this paper, has within its means to powerfully aid, encourage, and stimulate human progress, education, and science in an infinite variety of ways; and such an institution stands among the very best of investments to be made either on the part of State or city. Here are library, lecture, art, design, and interest for the multitude, and yet how rarely does it occur to the mind of the philanthropist to make an endowment in such a direction! Moneys diverted into such channels not only are given to the cause of education and learning and art, but to the embellishment of the city where the garden is founded, to the interest of its people, and the perpetuation of the name of the donor. Zoölogical gardens, again, even exert a far more powerful influence toward luring those of certain classes and conditions away from the vices of a city than does the museum or the library; while, with others, it leads to a greater interest and appreciation of the other establishments and their advantages.

With respect to a nation as a whole that has arrived at a certain height of civilization, and can boast of a well-filled treasury, it almost, if not quite, becomes her bounden duty to her people, and to the common good, to endow such an institution at her national capital, in connection with other scientific departments, of which she is the supporter in chief. And it should be the pride of every intelligent citizen of such a nation to see to it, as far as he is individually able, that the capital of his country is not backward in such matters, especially when he comes to look about him and sees that the most distinguished and influential nations of the earth are characterized by possessing just such institutions at the seat of their national governments.


The International Geological Congress map of northern Germany, which is in proof, is to be printed in twenty-four different tints for the sedimentary formations, three for the archæan, and nine for the eruptive rocks, and will consist of forty-nine sheets. One color is taken for each group—Cretaceous, green; Jurassic, blue, etc. The subdivisions are shown by various modifications of these colors. As a rule, the lower subdivisions are shown by the darker tints.