Creating the Natural, Censoring the Wild
The zoo: a chance to leave the over-regulated world of concrete and bureaucracy behind and reinvigorate the spirit through witnessing exotic animals in their natural splendor. However, as David Grazian reminds us in The Sociological Quarterly, it takes a lot of planning to produce the “natural”.
Drawing on three years and over 500 hours of volunteering at two metropolitan zoos, Grazian provides detailed insights into the tensions that are negotiated on a daily basis by the “nature makers” charged with designing displays that fit how visitors imagine jungles, grasslands, and other untamed settings. This involves creating landscapes that imitate the fauna from far-away lands, while simultaneously enclosing the animals and separating them from human visitors… all without making the zoo look too much like a prison. Audiences must also be convinced that the animals’ activities are unaltered by captivity even as the taboo—sex, killing, and defecating—is censored. Because, hey, even being a wild animal is no excuse for poor manners.
So next time you are strolling your local big cat house, take some time to think about the constant planning and negotiation necessary to create an experience that is wild but not too wild, dangerous but not too dangerous, cute but not too cute, educational but not too educational, civilized but not too civilized, and most important of all, “natural”.