In 1752, Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina, the only female ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy, decided that her love for animals (possibly second only to Catherine the Great’s horse-lust) was too overwhelming to ignore.
But, rather than hail a carriage with her jaw and visit them, the Holy Roman Empress preferred to bring the objects of her desire to Vienna. And so, on the grounds of the glorious Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial menagerie was founded.
In that singular moment of self-congratulatory human glee and metaphoric animal pant-shitting, the modern zoo was born.
And, off we jolly-well went to the far corners of the world, collecting and displaying like bowerbirds. Nowhere were animals safe from the tentacled net of the animal hunter.
Chancers, like Frank Buck, made a name and a fortune by stealing from nature’s overflowing larder. During Buck’s years of live-animal hunting he allegedly nabbed (in huge bags, one assumes) one hundred and twenty Asiatic antelope and deer, one hundred gibbons, ninety pythons, sixty-three leopards, sixty tigers and sixty bears, fifty-two orangutans, forty-nine elephants, forty kangaroos and/or wallabies (he wasn’t sure but they hopped), forty wild goats and sheep, twenty-five giant monitor lizards, twenty hyenas and twenty tapirs, eighteen African antelope, fifteen crocodiles, eleven camels, ten King cobras, nine pygmy water buffalo, five Babirusa wild Asian swine and five Indian rhinoceroses, two giraffes, a pair of Indian bison, more than five-hundred different species of other mammals, and more than one-hundred thousand wild birds.
Animals that were once roaming in peace on the grasslands of the Serengeti, or swinging cheekily from trees deep in the tropical rainforests of the Congo, or bounding across the semi-arid scrub of the endless Simpson Desert, were not doing that anymore. They were sitting, shitting, and near to quitting.
The creation of outdoor enclosures was a semi-thoughtful salve that attempted to alleviate this sad, sedentary, muscle-atrophying existence; confining animals with moats, ditches and fences rather than with concrete and cages.
Safari Parks, like the one at Whipsnade in Bedfordshire, England, often covered thousands of acres and let the animals live in a more natural environment. That is, if they could ignore the buses of screaming children, carloads of Chucks and Debbies filming their most intimate moments, and hordes of fat, juicy people that could not run.
Even then, there were and are terrible negatives to the zoo trade that nothing less than zoo-eradication could solve. For every animal that’s caught in the wild, several more are killed in that same process.
Animals bred in captivity are often surplus to the zoo’s requirements and are sold to traveling circuses, wicked animal merchants, delusional pet owners, or hunting ranches.
Studies, like the one by the San Jose Mercury News, show that around 40% of mammals that leave accredited zoos in the U.S. when they are no longer of use are sold to people and organizations with no official zoo t