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each exhibit was made to stand as a taxonomic specimen of a broader category'. The
importance of the visual in this form of knowledge was further underlined as
animals not normally visible to humans were put on display for human benefit
(Marvin 1994). The seven lions and two tigers at Adelaide Zoo were displayed in
cages lined with white tiles 'to furnish an excellent background for visitors including
natural history students and writers' (Anderson 1995:284).
Not all animals within the zoo have been organised in this way. Among the
taxonomic exhibits of many zoos were also found the zoo pets: animals named and
set apart from the rest of the collection. In Britain zoo pets tended to represent not
British scientific culture in the form of developments in natural history, but the
native colonies, especially those within significant European populations such as
Africa and Asia (Ritvo 1996). Rather than occupying stark cages arranged for study,
they were frequently housed in ornate enclosures which offered racialised
representations of their native environments (Anderson 1995). These zoo pets were
also set aside for special treatment, interacting with people to give rides and
frequently featuring in the mass media reports of the zoo. One notably famous
example was Jumbo, the African elephant who lived at London Zoo from 1865 to
1882 before becoming the star of the travelling Barnum circus in the States (Flint
This final destination of Jumbo draws attention to important processes following
the mobilisation and stabilisation of animals within the zoo, which is the ability to
accrue value from the accumulation and circulation of animals. The consolidation
of animals in the zoo not only aided and popularised developments in taxonomy
and natural history, but also offered financial returns for its application and display.
In utilising the knowledge and animals in their captivity, zoos became entrepôts for
developments in stock-breeding and the acclimatisation of animals within overseas
colonies. The South Australian Society campaign for the establishment of a zoo in
Adelaide included the intention to 'introduce, acclimatise, domesticate and liberate
select animal, insect and bird species from England' (Anderson 1995:281). Even at
the heart of empire in London Zoo, stock-breeders who wanted to distinguish their
livestock with 'exotic' blood could pay stud fees that ranged from five shillings for a
zebu, one pound for a Brahman Bull, and two pounds for a zebra (Ritvo 1996:45).
Commercial concerns played an important role in the acquisition of animals for
public display. Ritvo records financial anxiety at London Zoo regarding the short
life-spans of its large collection of big cats during its early years. Their average life-
span of around two years, with one mortality a month, meant that such deaths
diminished the general appeal of the zoo to visitors who found the 'carnivora…one
of the most attractive portions of the collection' (Ritvo 1996:47). 9
This ability to derive value from the public display of animals is the final part of
my argument before reflecting on the human experience of animals constructed by
the zoo. As the drive and funding for biological science shifted from taxonomy and
natural history to more mechanical models of biology throughout the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century, zoos gradually evolved into organisations
whose primary purpose was to exhibit animals to the public not to experts. Public
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