Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

Taking Children to the Zoo

The Animals Friend Annual Volume, 1923

The “Woman’s View,” was the heading given in The Times of October 31 to an article on the practice of taking children to the Zoological Gardens. That the writer’s admiration of Zoos as suitable places of amusement for young children is shared by many women cannot be doubted, but it certainly is not held by all; and I venture to think that if the women who take children to Zoos would first betake themselves to study of the methods by which Zoos are supplied, there would be very few who would find a “blissful glamour” in such prisons. No reader of “From Jungle to Zoo,” by Miss Velvin, F.Z.S. (herself an apologist for the “wild animal industry”), can remain ignorant of the sufferings to which the victims of the trade are exposed in the process to capture and transportation; she states, for example, that of the apes and monkeys, whose antics are the chief source of delight to children, “less than half of those captured reach their destination.” A morality of more than 50 per cent! It is the story of the African slave ships over again.

Clearly the author of the “Woman’s View” article had not given the subject any consideration, else she could hardly have written in a tone, is as humourless as it is callous. The autumn, it seems, is the best time for a visit to the Zoo; a hot summer day is too fatiguing (the polar bear would probably agree), and “it will soon be too cold to stand in stock-still contemplation.” That most of the captives have to stand in that posture, winter or summer, seems not to have occurred to the lady. She entirely ignores the fact that animals have feelings. Most careful are her directions as to the best way of taking children to that scene of merriment; but under what conditions, and at what cost of life or liberty, the wild animals themselves were taken there–that is a trifling matter which has not engaged her attention.

Yet she makes, incidentally, some admission that are worthy of note. “At times,” she says, “the pleasures of mere observation are insufficient. Something more in the nature of a definitive entertainment is expected;” and she instances a case where a little girl, after seeing the lions fed, asked when they were to eat the man. It was the old story of the poor lion that had not got a Christian. Can mothers wonder that some children, if taken to so unpleasant a spectacle should let their fancy run rather than was intended in the direction of morbid sensationalism?

But there are other children, with more refined instincts, whose conduct is described as apathetic and disappointing; as when they “become perversely absorbed in a common sparrow.” Perversely! I would base my highest hopes on a child who, in the midst of those unhappy captives and thoughtless spectators, became absorbed in a free wild bird–that is to say, in a reality rather than a sham. The squirrels and sparrows, with a few wild flowers that may be seen about the outskirts of the Gardens, are to me the only alleviating features of one of the most melancholy places in London.

But the majority of children, it seems are “satisfactory appreciative,” and repay those who bring them to the Zoo with their “ejaculations of astonished delight.” History repeats itself in these edifying methods of recreation. I was once told by an old lady, a native of Shrewsbury, that in her childhood she used to be taken with her sisters to see the pauper lunatics, who were then confined in the basement of the Workhouse, and exposed to public view as they frantically shook the window-bars. “Children,” the nurse would say, “where shall we go today?” and the cry was always, “Oh, please, to see the madmen!”

Such “definitive entertainment” for children is now less easy to obtain; but the lady who wrote The Times article may justly claim that she is doing her best to supply it.

Henry S. Salt