Zoos induce rather mixed feelings; of course, you get to see your favourite animals up close, but then again, they are in captivity, and that’s not something great. All of that aside though, zoos are, in general, enjoyable places. Zoos that contain animals, that is.
But isn’t that the only kind of zoo there is? Well, we’re sorry to disappoint you; until the very recent future, another kind of zoo existed – human zoos. That’s right – human beings in captivity, and exhibited – funnily, to other human beings who paid to see them.
Believe us? No? Maybe you will after you see these pictures.
1. These Selk’Nam natives were exhibited in human zoos while being taken to Europe.
Carl Hagenbeck is often credited as being the man who made the zoo what it is today, creating enclosures without bars, and closer to the animal’s natural habitat. However, a lesser known fact is that he was also the first person to exhibit humans and create a “human zoo”; in 1889, he captured – with the permission of the Chilean government – 11 people of the Selk’Nam tribe, who were enclosed behind bars and exhibited across Europe. Several related, “purely natural” tribes were also soon subjected to the same fate.(source)
2. This African girl was exhibited in a human zoo in Brussels, Belgium, in 1958.
Africans and Native Americans were often kept in zoos as exhibits – a practice that ran well into the late 1950s. In Europe, this was evident even as recently as the early 2000s. In Germany, Africans were brought in as exhibits for zoos and carnivals throughout the 20th century – something that was called a “People’s Show”. The Cincinnati Zoo kept 100 Native Americans in a village setting for approximately three months. This practice continued for several years, and across several places, causing widespread fury and outrage.(source)
3. Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy was displayed at the Bronx Zoo in New York City in 1906, and was forced to carry around orangutans and other apes while he was exhibited alongside them.
“Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches. Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Central Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner. Exhibited each afternoon during September.”
Thus read the sign outside the enclosure in which Ota Benga- a Congolese pygmy – was exhibited at the Monkey House in the Bronx Zoo in New York in 1906, where he entertained onlookers by shooting at targets with a bow and arrow and making amusing faces. He also did “tricks” with orangutans and other apes to entertain the large number of people who were drawn to this unusual, yet highly interesting specimen in the zoo. This incident, however, drew criticism from several corners, leading to the “exhibit” being withdrawn.(source)