Thought to Exist in the Wild:

Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos
by Derrick Jensen, photographs by Karen Tweedy-Holmes


The bear takes seven steps, her claws clicking on concrete. She dips her head, turns, takes three steps toward the front of the enclosure. There she again dips her head, there she again turns, there she again takes seven steps. Another dip, another turn, another three steps.

When she gets to where she started she begins all over. And then she does it again. And again. And again.

This is what's left of her life.

Outside the cage, people pass by on a sidewalk. Strollers barely come to a stop before the drivers realize there's nothing here to see. They move on. Still the bear paces. Seven steps, head dip, turn. A pair of teenagers approach, wearing walkmen and holding hands. One glance inside is enough, and they're on to the next cage. Three steps, head dip, turn.

I notice that my fingers have wrapped themselves tight around the metal railing outside the enclosure. I notice they're sore. My breath catches in my throat. Still the bear paces. I look at the silver on her back, the concave bridge of her nose. Seven steps, head dip, turn. I wonder how long she's been here. A father and son walk by, do not stop to stand next to me. Three steps, head dip, turn.

I release the rail, turn, walk away, and as I do, I hear, slowly fading, the rhythmic clicking of claws on concrete.

A zoo is a nightmare taking shape in concrete and steel, iron and glass, moats and electrified fences. It is a nightmare that for its victims has no end save death...

RhinoMany ancient zoos contained tremendous numbers of animals. Egyptian zoos held thousands of monkeys, wild cats, antelopes, hyenas, gazelles, ibex, and oryx. Some zoo historians suggest that because the creatures in these zoos were considered sacred they were treated well, but as Hancocks points out, "Deification of a species, however, brought dubious honor. Used in ritualistic sacrifices, sacred ibis, falcons, and crocodiles were mummified by the hundreds of thousands in sanctified ceremonies. The temple slaughters were so great they led to extermination of these species in many parts of Egypt ." The Chinese, too, built large zoos, as did princes in India : the mogul Akbar had in his collection five thousand elephants, one thousand camels, and one thousand cheetahs. The Aztecs' aviary and zoo in Tenochtitlán was large enough to require almost three hundred keepers just for the ducks, fish, and snakes, and three hundred for the rest of the animals. Five hundred turkeys per day were fed to captive eagles and hawks.
Zoo animals have been kept as pets, as oddities, as objects of study, as entertainment, but mainly-and this is as true today as it was then-as symbols of prestige and power.

It's not entirely accurate for me to say that ancient zoos contained "tremendous numbers" of animals, just as it wouldn't be entirely accurate for me to say that zoos today contain "tremendous numbers" of animals. Zoos don't contain numbers at all. They contain animals, individuals one and all.

Most of us by now have unfortunately been to enough zoos to be aware of the stereotype of the creature who has been driven insane by confinement. The bear pacing a precise rectangle, the ostrich incessantly clapping his bill, the elephants rhythmically swaying, swaying, swaying. But the bear I described is no cliché. She is a bear. She is a bear who like all other bears at one time had desires and preferences all her own, and who may still beneath the madness.
Or at this point she may not . . .