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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ghosts of Zoos Past

At my workplace, I am definitely the paparazzo.  I bring my camera in frequently, and if I'm not doing something (which, to be fair, is 98% of the time), I'm snapping pictures.  Pictures of animals.  Pictures of exhibits.  Of keepers.  When I visit other zoos and aquariums, my camera is always out.

It's not that I want to load up my Facebook wall with cool work photos.  It's that I have absolutely no visual memory, so for me, photography is essential for me to remember what I saw and what I thought of it.  It's because I appreciate the educational value of pictures, and how they can be used to teach an audience.  They really are worth a thousand words... unless you have your finger over the lens, as I sometimes do.  Those ones are worthless.

Wildlife Conservation Society-Vintage Photographs-Bronx Zoo-New York Aquarium-NYC-004
Pictured here is the first of four thylacines who lived at the Bronx Zoo between 1902 and 1919. The Bronx Zoo and Smithsonian National Zoo are the only two zoos in the U.S. to ever exhibit this now extinct species. The last known thylacine died at the Hobart Zoo in Tasmania in 1936. Photo © WCS.

Which is why I'm so excited to see that the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium are making an archive of over 12,000 photos from their century-long history available.  These photographs convey the story of these institutions - what animals were housed there (including some that are now extinct, or have never been displayed since), how they were cared for, and how visitors and staff interacted with them.

The world of zoos and aquariums is constantly changing - even in the time that I've been in the profession, tremendous changes have occurred in exhibition, breeding, enrichment, and training.  Which is just as well for future generations.  Who knows what idle snapshot one of our keepers will take will be treasured by future generations?

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