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Savages and Beasts

The Birth of the Modern Zoo

Nigel Rothfels

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To modern sensibilities, nineteenth-century zoos often seem to be unnatural places where animals led miserable lives in cramped, wrought-iron cages. Today zoo animals, in at least the better zoos, wander in open spaces that resemble natural habitats and are enclosed, not by bars, but by moats, cliffs, and other landscape features. In Savages and Beasts, Nigel Rothfels traces the origins of the modern zoo to the efforts of the German animal entrepreneur Carl Hagenbeck.

By the late nineteenth century, Hagenbeck had emerged as the world's undisputed leader in the capture and transport of exotic...

To modern sensibilities, nineteenth-century zoos often seem to be unnatural places where animals led miserable lives in cramped, wrought-iron cages. Today zoo animals, in at least the better zoos, wander in open spaces that resemble natural habitats and are enclosed, not by bars, but by moats, cliffs, and other landscape features. In Savages and Beasts, Nigel Rothfels traces the origins of the modern zoo to the efforts of the German animal entrepreneur Carl Hagenbeck.

By the late nineteenth century, Hagenbeck had emerged as the world's undisputed leader in the capture and transport of exotic animals. His business included procuring and exhibiting indigenous peoples in highly profitable spectacles throughout Europe and training exotic animals—humanely, Hagenbeck advertised—for circuses around the world. When in 1907 the Hagenbeck Animal Park opened in a village near Hamburg, Germany, Hagenbeck brought together all his business interests in a revolutionary zoological park. He moved wild animals out of their cages and into "natural landscapes" alongside "primitive" peoples from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the islands of the Pacific. Hagenbeck had invented a new way of imagining captivity: the animals and people on exhibit appeared to be living in the wilds of their native lands.

By looking at Hagenbeck's multiple enterprises, Savages and Beasts demonstrates how seemingly enlightened ideas about the role of zoos and the nature of animal captivity developed within the essentially tawdry business of placing exotic creatures on public display. Rothfels provides both fascinating reading and much-needed historical perspective on the nature of our relationship with the animal kingdom.

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Reviews

Rothfels... focuses on the 19th-century origins of modern zoos and the man who made it all happen. Carl Hagenbeck, a German animal dealer and zoo visionary, was the owner of the first zoo without bars, and he invented the use of a moated display and many other now-standard techniques. Savages and Beasts is a fine read, in which good use of picture archives has complemented the writer's extensive documentary research.

It is Nigel Rothfels' great service to show how Carl Hagenbeck's growing experience in mounting his ethnographic spectacles, and his observation of the public's reception of them, led to ideas culminating in a new kind of zoological park... Rothfels has written a genuinely important book for anyone interested in zoos, his perspective is new and convincing.

Convincingly argues that the image of Hagenbeck as a modern-day Noah, a great animal lover trying to educate the public about the wonders of nature, belies the basic nature of Hagenbeck's enterprise. That enterprise had very little to do with love for animals, and everything to do with making money. More generally, Rothfels raises questions about past practices of exhibiting animals (and people) and about what zoos of the present are all about.

Important, timely, and stimulating... A rich source on so much; Rothfel's account of Hagenbeck's consolidation of the animal trade, for instance, is exemplary, the mobilization of much research into a lucid exposition of overarching trends.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6.125
x
9.25
Pages
288
ISBN
9780801889752
Illustration Description
51 halftones, 1 line drawing
Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Entering the Gates
Chapter 1: Gardens of History
Chapter 2: Catching Animals
Chapter 3: "Fabulous Animals": Showing People
Chapter 4: Paradise
Conclusion

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Entering the Gates
Chapter 1: Gardens of History
Chapter 2: Catching Animals
Chapter 3: "Fabulous Animals": Showing People
Chapter 4: Paradise
Conclusion: When Animals Speak
Notes
A Note on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Nigel Rothfels
Featured Contributor

Nigel Rothfels, Ph.D.

Nigel Rothfels is a professor of history and the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He is the author of Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo and the editor of Representing Animals.