Friday, 1 June 2012

Article: Vintage Zoo Pamphlets Feature Odd Exhibits & Extinct Animals

Multi-person elephant rides, orangutans eating from fine china, and carnivores on display before becoming extinct are just some of the scenes from an online exhibit of vintage zoo pamphlets being featured by the Smithsonian Institution.

The pamphlets, photos and zoo maps, available from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, come from zoos in more than 30 U.S. states and 40 countries. They show elephants in Australia ferrying schoolchildren on their backs, close-up looks at tigers in Prague, and illustrations from 1891 of a thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, a carnivorous marsupial on display at the Gardens of the Zoological Society of London. The last known thylacine died in captivity in 1936.

The vintage materials reveal how much zoos have changed from amusement-park-like attractions to more educational, conservation-minded institutions. A guide to Great Britain's Clifton Zoological Gardens from 1912, for example, shows prison-like animal enclosures encased in heavy bars. Primates were often posed doing human-like activities. One Minnesota zoo guide from 1928 shows a chimpanzee in a stroller. 

The New York Zoological Park guide, published in 1905, has photographs of orangutans sitting around a table draped with a white tablecloth, mimicking a family dinner.

"Some of the photographs of animal enclosures, restraint devices and mock theatrics, while unsettling to some, are an important part of the history of human-animal relations," wrote Alvin Hutchinson, the head of information services at Smithsonian Libraries, in an introduction to the collection.

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