Popular Science Monthly/Volume 83/November 1913/The National Zoological Garden

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1580088Popular Science Monthly Volume 83 November 1913 — The National Zoological Garden1913Robert Wilson Shufeldt




MY home at the present time is within ten minutes' walk of the National Zoological Park at Washington, and, as a matter of fact, when my study window is open, and outside conditions are favorable, the howling of the coyotes and wolves, the barking of the seals, and the calls of the big birds of prey are, each and all, heard with delightful distinctness.

Zoological gardens and parks have interested me most keenly as far back as I can remember, and in years gone by I have published, in one place or another, a number of articles about them, in which I have attempted to point out what extremely valuable institutions they are to any civilized community of people.

Within the past few weeks I have made quite a number of photographs in the National "Zoo," including some of the principal buildings, the animals and views. Some of these were taken for a definite purpose, to which they have already been applied. Others were taken to help illustrate a book I am writing on animals; while a few have a special interest for me on other accounts, and some of these I am using to illustrate the present article, as, for example, the superb specimen of the Kadiak bear shown in Fig. 1. This is the largest carnivore existing on this planet to-day, and is, as in the case of so many of our famous mammals, gradually, but very surely, being exterminated.

There are a number of different species of bears in the collection of the National Zoological Park, as for example the brown bear of Europe, the black bear, grizzly, polar bears and others. They are placed upon exhibition by being confined in a series of cages, here shown in Fig. 1, with "dens" built in solid masonry and stone-work at their farther ends. Although well and regularly fed, and the general surroundings very beautiful, these poor fellows are by no means happy or contented. Bears are extremely active in nature, and delight in climbing trees and in cutting up all sorts of antics in the forests. These cages are doubtless the best that the limited funds at the disposal of the management will purchase; but any one who knows anything of a bear's needs, knows full well that it is a cruelty to keep them in such quarters as those in which they are now confined. These cages should be five or six times their present size, and running water should pass through them. There should be areas enclosed of soft ground for the bears to scratch and roll upon; and, above all, a number of trees, as large as possible, should be enclosed, in that they could climb to their heart's content. It is a truly pitiable sight to see these poor creatures try to "kill time" in every way that their tortured ursine minds can devise in these big rat-traps.

No one appreciates these facts more keenly than Dr. Frank Baker, the present superintendent of the gardens, and Mr. Blackburne, the head keeper—a big-hearted man who knows animals, and feels for them as though they were his own captured and caged relatives. But the fault does not altogether lie in any such quarter; for, were the necessary

Fig. 1. The Kodiak Bear; the largest carnivorous animal in the world.

amount appropriated by congress every year to make this park what it really should be, a credit to the American nation and an educational center of the greatest magnitude and importance, no such daily, hourly acts of cruelty would be perpetrated, and the kind of article I am now writing would never have been thought of, much less penned.

It is truly a marvel that so much has been accomplished at our "Zoo" with the meager means that the government allots for the purpose. This year $100,000 has been appropriated for the purchase of more land to be added to its present acreage, which is something,—a step in the right direction for the future; and were it backed up by half a million more, to be expended on what is now possessed and on its inhabitants, it surely would be a matter for national congratulation. But with salaries that would make a car conductor blush to receive; a third of the rare animals housed in hat-boxes: no aquaria or reptile house worthy of the name,—it's no wonder we are criticized. The idea of a park, a "zoo" like ours, with no photographic gallery, and no prosector or anatomical laboratory and work-rooms!

One of the grandest sights in our National Park at Washington is the great flying-cage for large-sized living birds. This immense wire structure is no less than 150 feet long, and 50 feet high and wide. I have photographed it both inside and out, and reproductions of these photographs are here' shown in Figs. 2 and 3.

The picture shown in Fig. 3 gives a good idea of the interior of this elegant structure, which is situated in a very attractive spot, the surroundings being forest, stream and wooded hillside. Two black-bellied tree ducks (Dendrocygna autunmalis) are seen at the edge of one of the swimming pools in Fig. 3, and fine examples of pelicans, water turkeys, night herons, gulls, cranes, storks and their many allies live most happily in this enormous and attractive cage,—indeed, so attractive has it been made, and in such a secluded spot, that the wild herons come every year and build their nests on the top of it, in the vines there running over the wire. It is truly a grand sight and one of the redeeming features of the place.

Fig. 2. The Flying-cage for Large Birds.
Fig. 3. Scene inside of Flying-cage.

Some of the paddocks for deer, moose, caribou and the like are as fine as can be found anywhere in the world, and the animals inhabiting them are probably as contented and certainly as comfortable as their relatives enjoying their freedom in their native wilds. One of my pictures (Fig. 4) gives a view of one of these paddocks in which deer are confined; it is just this side of the flying-cage, which may distinctly be seen through the trees in the background. There is a beautiful bunch of deer in sight, and it is easy to recognize the ideal conditions under which these elegant animals are kept. Even the skeleton wire-fence which surrounds their paddock fails to mar the general effect of the naturalness of the locality, which is greatly enhanced by the attitudes assumed by the deer, each being the very exemplification of alertness and curiosity as to the intentions of the photographer.

All the animals at the park, however, are by no means living under such ideal conditions; in fact, the lives led by some—altogether too many of them—are fit subjects for the action of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and it is only a short time ago that the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution was compelled to print in his annual report that

It has been possible to make some needed improvements in the roadways of the park during the year, but many of the buildings are almost falling down. The need of means to put a permanent shelter over the animals can not be overstated. Mention has already been made in this relation of the aquarium building, which consists of a literal barn, and which was brought here until Congress could provide a special one; but although several years have elapsed, none has yet been provided. The elephant house, a small wooden shed, put up
One of the Deer Parks in the Winter.
as a temporary expedient ten years ago, requires extensive repairs to prevent it literally falling from rottenness.

As I say, the aquarium project has now been abandoned, and a nation of 90,000,000 of people must be satisfied with the dozen or more well kept, thoroughly inadequate and small aquaria at the building of the U. S. Fish Commission in Washington as the extent of the facilities for the study of living fishes in confinement; a few trout, turtles, bass, and gold fish which, as far as they go, in a measure instruct the people, and certainly amuse the scientists. But when we come to think what an immense problem in economics our fisheries presents, and how vitally important it is for us to study them in every possible way. both in nature and in aquaria, the negligence of congress in not amply appropriating money for the proper and extended prosecution of such enquiries by the scientific staff of the government is simply an indication of national inefficiency, and one of the trade marks of a backward, second class civilization.

At present, the one eagle cage that has been built is very good, as far as it goes; it has, however, been filled to its maximum capacity, and we find a superb specimen of the South American condor and a harpy eagle of great value cooped up in miserably small quarters, where, in the case of the latter bird, he can not enjoy the sunlight that his very nature craves.

Every intelligent naturalist and psychologist knows what wild animals of all kinds hourly suffer when confined for months—sometimes for several years—in small cages, pits and pens; their mental suffering is terrible, and only equaled by that endured by some highly educated person similarly confined. It is by no means an elevating sight to watch the pitiable efforts they make to relieve the terrors of what amounts to a great deal more than the mere loss of liberty; for it often means to them loss of companionship, sunlight, proper exercise, adequate amusement, and everything else that conduces to make even the life of a monkey or an elephant worth living. Still, if we close our eyes to all this and continue to hope that we may, some day, really have a congress that will appreciate these things, and do its duty by them, there is much to learn by a visit—or many visits—to our National Park.

Apart from my studies of the many animals there, it has, ever and anon, been a matter of delightful surprise and satisfaction to me when, at some unusual time and perhaps only two or three people—aside from keepers and others—could be found in the place, I have come upon some enthusiastic boy, vigorously at work with pencil, color or brush, in front of one of the cages, doing his best to faithfully portray its inmate. Ah, I've thought to myself then, may be a coming American animal painter; and, if it really turns out to be so in the future, not a few of the thousands of dollars congress has appropriated for this necessary project will have been more than well expended; for a world-wide known painter of animals is calculated to shed more real credit upon a nation than is an entire army of imported criminal good-for-nothings down in the east side of New York City or any other American city. All this likewise applies most forcibly to the nature classes we occasionally see at the Zoo,—the sculptor in search of correct poses of animals for his art; the scientific taxidermist; the artist and the biologist, and an hundred others of the classes that make up the great scientific, artistic and learned body of people of the country.

Fig. 5. Wild Swans in Winter. (Feeding Grounds.)

We must be patient, however, and all will come to pass in due time; even congress delights in making generous appropriations to national successes,—but to make the venture a veritable success, there's where the rub comes.

What we really need, in addition to what has already been put on foot at our National Park, is the establishment, on a broad basis, of a thoroughly equipped department of photography for the animals kept there, and what is even more important, a department of anatomy, with a recognized anatomist at its head. It should be his duty to make as complete a report as possible on the anatomy of every animal that dies at the park, and such reports should be fully illustrated and prepared for publication in any appropriate government avenue. There should also be a laboratory established for this purpose, and such material as came to the dissecting table worthy of preservation should, together with the skeleton of the animal, be sent to the National Museum for the department of comparative anatomy—a department that, at one time, was the envy of scientific Europe and the greatest possible credit to American science.