Containment: A History of Early American Zoos
The Slam Skillet ‘Containment Tee‘ explores the history of early American zoos with a white pocket short-sleeve. The graphics track the movement of a captive feline, in the vein of architect Bernard Tschumi’s ‘Manhattan Transcripts’.
Urban parks influenced the layout of early American zoos. Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape designer renowned for his construction of Central Park, was commissioned in 1892 to improve the site of a new public space in Washington DC. The ‘National Museum’s Department of Living Animals’ took influence from bourgeois social clubs in Germany and England to showcase rare collections of animals, but the rebranded ’National Zoo’ implanted them into existing parks for public access. Olmsted’s zoo was a picturesque escape from the oppressive city, guiding visitors along winding paths and rolling hills. Animals were placed in their ‘natural’ environment, released of cages that associated the park with a circus or theatre.
Animal collections in early American zoos were more circumstantial than curated, in that zookeepers pooled unwanted family pets, and stragglers from bankrupt circuses. The ‘Central Park Menagerie’ in 1932 was aptly named for a roster of “hyacinth cockatoos, vulture guinea fowl, several dozen canaries, and in a cage between the mountain lions and the leopards, an Airedale.”
Today, zoo collections are a cornerstone of animal research and conservation awareness. They provide consistent data on rare animals and inform the structure of animal research projects. Species on the verge of extinction are held captive in hope of recovery.
The latest Slam Skillet Tee profiles the Clouded leopard, a critically endangered species in the wild but a presence in modern-day zoos. Researchers O’Brien et al. needed only a few captive individuals to determine a new species called the Bornean clouded leopard, one of the only new carnivores to be discovered in the 2000s. This species diverged from mainland populations during the Pleistocene Era, when repeated flooding and opening of the Sunda Shelf geographically separated the two groups. The restrictive physical layout of zoos has been shown to introduce stress and provoke behavioral changes in captive Clouded leopards.
The Containment Tee release is bundled with a collaborative web space where users control the flow of animals through a zoo. Noodle on it with your friends! Any zookeeper who opens a gate on their map will trigger the same gate to open on another map.
“Around the Arsenal squatted the twenty-two ancient wooden animal houses of the Central Park Menagerie, crumbling away beneath their yellow paint. So rotted were their walls that park department officials feared that a single charge from a large animal, perhaps maddened by fire, might tear the cage bards right out of them. Instead of rebuilding the animal houses, the department had stationed keepers in front of the lion and tiger cages with rifles and had instructed them to shoot the big carnivores if fire broke out.” – Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker