The relationship between man and animals is often understood from man’s social and cultural background. Since animals cannot speak, it is man’s prerogative to interpret what the animal is trying to say…
The zoological gaze is symptomatic of one’s historical experience as well as the environment that one belongs. A study of the zoological gaze is sufficient to understand the social practices and institutions of a certain place or time. Several books tend to look at this perspective from the ethical point of view. However, even an ethical analysis is dependent on the social background of the person concerned. The changing nature of zoos; their format, the reason behind their existence as well as the placement of individuals there is indicative of the divergent social origins of the population. Endangered animal species reflect a cultural background that values animal conservation and nature. Thematic leisure parks reflect the culture of consumerism and capitalism that has taken root in several western countries especially during the late twentieth century. Even the motivations for establishing zoos are dependent on culture and thus the prevailing values at the time. It is for this reason that sociology is especially relevant. It allows one to place this phenomenon, of animal watching in zoos, into context. All the latter depictions will be examined from a sociological lens in order to better understand why animals are kept in zoos. Spectacle For most people, a visit to the zoo is an opportunity to observe the otherworldliness of creatures kept in those establishments. In the 16th century, travelling zoos were a common phenomenon; these were known as menageries. Owing to the logistical challenges of transporting a large number of wild animals, it was often necessary to place these animals in narrow spaces. Minimal distance existed between spectators and the animals thus epitomising the gaze that several of them would enjoy. The public was amazed at the hideousness and strangeness of these creatures. Further, because few of them knew little about their background, it was assumed that these animals were dangerous and needed to be caged (Franklin, 1999). Little evidence exists to demonstrate imitations of the animals’ natural habitat. In fact, the public had no information about the source of these beasts. Their only concern was to gain amusement from them. However, because they knew that the animals were wild, then caging them seemed like an ideal arrangement. In fact, if attempts were made to recreate their natural environment, then this would have undermined their grotesque nature. Furthermore, because their caretakers were always moving all the time, zoos mirrored carnivals or other similar phenomena today (Love, 1999). The public saw these places as opportunities to step away from their daily encounters and enter into a surreal environment. The Victorian era was a time when rare animals were highly treasured. These were circumstances in which the costliest menageries were the ones that had the most unique species of animals. In fact, captors often overstated their role by claiming that they had utilised ingenious ways to access those creatures and thus capture them (Mazur, 2006). It was essentially a time when people had minimal knowledge about animals. There were quite curious and in need of seeing these strange beings. Several of them were thus perceived them as objects of amusement. The exhibitionist nature of these travelling zoos thus illustrates that the animals were a sight to behold. It came as no surprise that sometimes crowds would gather simply because of the acquisition of one animal (Ritvo, 1987). Scientific experimentation Zoological entrepreneurs started ...
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