Saturday, June 29, 2013

Do Not Feed The Animals

Guest Article
Richard J. Reynolds

Dr. Nigel Rothfels, an American author and university professor (Univ of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) posed this question - -When did zoos start posting "Do Not Feed the Animals" signs?

Zoo and Circus historian Richard Reynolds of Atlanta, GA, a founding trustee of what is now Zoo Atlanta, provided this answer - - -  

I skimmed through Gathering of Animals . . .(Bronx) by Bridges (1966), a good history. I saw nothing about a prohibition against the public's feeding the animals, though there was much about Director Hornaday's being on the warpath over the public's  littering and bringing cameras into the park. He was nothing if not autocratic, and I cannot imagine him tolerating the public's feeding the animals except with special food he could sell to the public.

The earliest reference that I have found is in Mark Rosenthal's splendid history of the Lincoln Park Zoo, The Ark in the Park (2003) - - (It has the same title as a 1976 book by Wilfrid Blunt about the early years of the London zoo). The two books have different  subtitles.

Rosenthal said that in 1902 a double fence was put around the exhibits to prevent visitors from feeding the animals. He quoted the estimable Cy DeVry,then manager/director of Lincoln Park as follows: " The buffalo and deer are so full of  popcorn and candy all the time that  when we go to feed them they aren't hungry. The visitors keep them stuffed and it isn't good for their little insides." I would rationalize, a fortiori, that "Do Not Feed" signs" were posted.

In Wild Animals In and Out of the Zoo (1930) Dr William Mann, legendary  director of National Zoo (I once met him) talked at some length  about the problem of visitors feeding animals and throwing things into their enclosures (p. 277 et seq). Said Mann - -
"There is really no need for visitors to feed the animals. They are well provided for . . .But there are other reasons why zoological parks prohibit indiscriminate feeding of their tenants  . . much damage can be done . . .Consequently there is strict prohibition in parks against throwing anything whatever into the cages. . . All zoos have their sad history of damage to animals occasioned by ignorant or vicious visitiors."
The prohibition would do no good (and may not have anyway) without the "Do Not Feed" signs. So we must figure that the signs were in place when Mann wrote the above.
In contrast, and many years later, my 1949 Philadelphia Zoo  guide states (p.93) - - - "The public may feed the majority of the animals on exhibition; food  may be purchased at refreshment stands." 
I'm sure that by going through old zoo photos one may find some that show the "Do Not Feed"  sign.  
Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey also had "Do Not Feed" signs in its menagerie, to wit:

This is a photo by Eddie Jackson taken in Baton Rouge, LA on October 3, 1930. Here is the picture in full - -

As you see the circus had 4 adult giraffes that year. As information each was transported on the circus train in one of the rounded top wagons in the background. Each wagon was heavily padded inside. To accommodate the high point of the back above the shoulder, the middle third of roof had a flexible ceiling comprised of a mattress like padding so there was no rigidity. Even the largest ones could turn around inside the wagons.  Unlike cartoon representations, the giraffe wagons of this era had no openings in their roofs though which the giraffes could poke their heads. Ringling had a long and successful history of transporting giraffes this way, some for upwards of 20 years. 

The circus also warned the public against touching the cage wagons (beast wagons) as is shown in this RBBB photo from 1946 taken  in West Allis, WI.

This is sea lion wagon no. 92. Note the bathing tank underneath. As a child, I well recall seeing these warnings on the canvas tarpaulins put over the cage wagons for travel.

The "Do Not Feed" injunction  seems to have had an exception when it came to elephants. Here is a Henry Penndorf photo taken in the Bronx Zoo in 1959.

In the Ringling menageries well up into the 1950s, elephants (usually between and 30 and 50) were lined up behind a rope picket line which they could readily reach with their trunks. Like so - -

Photo circa 1934

They got a lot of handouts from the thousands of visitors, mostly peanuts and popcorn. My late Father recalled an incident in the Ringling menagerie in Atlanta (1931 I think).  A black lady standing right in front of the picket line turned her attention away momentarily and an elephant snatched a bag of food right out of her hand. She had intended to eat it herself.

This does not seem to have hurt the circus elephants because  many of them lived 50 to 60 years and several more than that.

Richard J. Reynolds, III, 28 June 2013  

 Other Zoo Signs

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