Weird Moments in Zoo History

Zoos, or at least animal menageries, have been around since at least Roman times when exotic animals were collected for the purpose of being used in battles in the coliseum. During medieval times, the greatest zoo around was actually contained in the Tower of London. It was opened to the public for the first time during the reign of Elizabeth I.

During the 18th century, guests could visit the zoo for only three half-pence, or they could come for free if they brought a dog or cat to feed to the lions. This animal collection was eventually moved into the world’s first official “zoo,” the London Zoological Gardens. Over the years, zoos have moved from being collections of caged animals designed to please the public to expansive parks dedicated to maintaining ecological diversity and conservation. While modern day zoos are mostly safe places where the public can go to see wild, exotic animals, this isn’t always the case. Here are some weird stories relating to modern zoos in honor of Visit The Zoo Day on December 27. Image Via [Flickr]

Gaza’s Painted Donkeys

When the only two zebras in the Mara Land Zoo in Gaza Strip starved to death during the Israel-Hamas war, zoo officials knew they needed the popular creatures in order to entertain the crowds. Unfortunately, replacing the expensive attractions through the secret underground tunnels in the area was not an option for the financially strapped zoo. So keepers did what any good zoologists would do and just faked their zebra collection by painting donkeys to look like their stripped cousins.

To give them the dye jobs, zoo keepers used masking tape and black hair dye to create “authentic” stripping patterns on the creatures. While it may sound like a bad solution, many of the zoo’s young guests had never seen a real zebra and were equally impressed by the frauds. I guess it is still better to see a mock wild animal than no wild animals. Source Image Via Associated Press

The Loneliest Pig In the World

What’s exotic to one culture may just be a standard farm animal to another, as evidenced by Khanzir, the only known pig in all of Afghanistan. Because pork products are illegal in the country, the pig is a true rarity in the country, who received Khanzir as a gift from China. As if the poor pig wasn’t lonely enough grazing beside goats and deer, when fear of the swine flu hit the country, he was forced to spend his time in quarantine all by himself.

The zoo director, Mr Saqib explained the zoo’s decision to isolate the animal, despite the knowledge that it would not actually be able to infect the general public, "The only reason we moved him was because Afghan people don't have a lot of knowledge about swine flu, and so when they see a pig they get worried and think they will get ill." Mr. Saqib does have hopes to alleviate the pig’s loneliness though, he says after the swine flu concerns die down, he would like to get Khanzir a female companion. Perhaps then, poor little Khanzir could at least be a member of the only pig family in the country. Source #1, #2 Image Via BBC

In Case of Escaped Rhino…

If you’ve ever wondered how keepers prepare for the possibility of an animal escaping the zoo, you’re not alone. Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of the internet, a Japanese training session to get keepers prepared for a potential rhino escape has been caught on tape and made its way into your home. The “rhino” in this case is pretty darn terrifying, what with its eight legs and all. While the team’s efforts seem effective, you have to wonder if they would work nearly as well when the beast is actually 1 ton and angry as all heck.

Orangutan Escape

Perhaps those zoo keepers should have worked on their plans for escaped primates rather than escaped rhinos. A video seen on Animal Planet (sorry its not embedded, but they don't offer that service) demonstrates the terrifying things that happened when a four-hundred pound angry orangutan broke out of its cage and chased tourists and charged security guards. During his escapade in the outside world, Blacky also smashed some scooters and took control of a camera tripod hoping to use it as weapon against the guards who shot him with a tranquilizer dart. In the shot, you see just how long it takes for a huge animal to fall after getting shot with a tranquilizer dart --meaning the rhino training exercise certainly was optimistic about that part of the procedure.

Nuts About Knut

In nature, it is not uncommon for a mother to abandon her cub. Some environmentalists claim that the best thing to do in these situations is to let nature take its course and let the cub die off. But when the animal is already affected by human intervention because it lives in a zoo, it seems more than a little cold-hearted to just abandon the cub. Zookeeper Thomas Dörflein agreed, which is why he saved a two newborn polar bears that were abandoned by their mother.

One of the bears died of an infection within four days, but the other, Knut, was hand raised by Dörflein, who provided the cub with around-the-clock care. Only a few months into little Knut’s life, a German tabloid carried an article about Knut that featured a quote by animal rights activist Frank Albrecht, who said the bear should have been left to die rather than be subjected to a life as “a domestic pet.” The director of another local zoo agreed with Albrect and said that keepers should have “had the courage to let the bear die.”

To be fair, both of the people quoted said they were taken out of context and Dörflein has said that he was making a point about a German court's decision saying that it was OK for another zoo to have euthanized an abandoned cub in a similar situation. Naturally, animal lovers everywhere rallied in support of the little bear and the Berlin Zoo vowed to keep him alive and care for him. As a result of the controversy, Knut became a worldwide celebrity and videos of the little cub with his zookeeper were loaded onto YouTube for everyone to marvel at. His fame brought so many visitors to the zoo that it soon experienced its most profitable year out of its entire 163 year history.

As Knut grew older, he continued to be a popular attraction for visitors and he is still living at the zoo. Unfortunately, Dörflein died of a heart attack in 2008, although he remains a hero to many residents of Berlin.

Source Image Via Jean-Luc [Wikipedia Commons]

Human Exhibits

A long time ago (actually as recent as 1958 in Brussels), it wasn’t uncommon for humans of other races to be displayed in zoos alongside exotic animals. While racism in that time is not unusual, having people live in a zoo these days certainly is. But in 2007, the Adelaide Zoo in Australia ran a zoo exhibit where humans were housed in a former ape enclosure (they did get to go home at night). Inhabitants took part in a number of exercises and the amused onlookers were then asked for donations towards a new enclosure for a new exhibit for the chimpanzees.


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"As Knut grew older, he continued to be a popular attraction for visitors and he is still living at the zoo. Unfortunately, Dörflein died of a heart attack in 2008, although he remains a hero to many residents of Berlin."

He Whut? Huh, that one slipped past me. Never knew. :(
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