Berger’s Interesting Quote!

“A zoo is a place where many species and varieties of animal as possible are collected in order that they can be seen, observed, studied.  In principle, each cage is a frame round the animal inside it. Visitors visit the zoo to look at animals. They proceed from cage to cage, not unlike visitors in an art gallery who stop in front of one painting, and then move on to the next or the one after next. Yet in the zoo the view is always wrong. Like an image out of focus. One is so accustomed to this that one scarcely notices it any more; or, rather, the apology habitually anticipates the disappointment, so that the latter is not felt. And the apology runs like this: What do you expect? It’s not a dead object you have come to look at, it’s alive. It’s leading its own life. Why should this coincide with its being properly visible? Yet the reasoning of this apology is inadequate. The truth is more startling” (Berger 459).

I find this quote to be very interesting because the quote unmasks the deceitful nature of Zoo’s and reveals how superficial human beings have become. Zoo’s might have been established with the sole purpose of educating the public about wildlife, help endangered animals reproduce, or to learn more about animals in their “natural habitat.” However, these attractions as good as their initial intentions may have been established have turned the wild and its animals into robotic and sad institutions. Yes, the animals are given food, an artificial home, and medicine but have robbed the animals of their true wild side. Have you not noticed how excited children are to go to the zoo? They expect to find these exotic animals, such as the Lion go on an exciting hunt and instead stand 100 feet away from a lazy lion resting under the shade. I’m not saying these wild animals should never have a time to simply rest. What I am saying, however, is that the Zoos environment is basically a case of magic tricks. The homes in which the animals live by are nothing more than a tainted reality. I could imagine that if most of the animals in the zoo are released into the wilderness then most will die because they have become so accustomed to the wildlife. It is unjust that we partake in attending these institutions because we are giving our approval so that these animals can be exploited for financial gain. It has come to the point that these animals are unresponsive to outside stimuli. These animals have become so used to the attention that whenever a new person or persons come by the animals seems to just remain seated and calm. Where is their wild spirit? Where is their uncontrollable desire to conquer? Where is the savagery? This spirit might still be in them it just might be dormant. The next question is, when do these Zoo animals stop being wild animals and where does the domestication of animals begin?  In essence, the institutions of Zoos allow for the exploitation of animals and create a false concept of naturalness to wilderness.


Berger, John. About Looking. InternationalCH./Art: Why Look at Animals? p. 3-28. Pub. Vintage Sept 1991


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by yribaf on November 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I agree with your post and would like to answer several of the questions you have asked to the best of my knowledge. Wild animals have the knowledge to survive on the earth, but once you put them in a cage, they begin to lose this knowledge. They slowly forget how to hunt, where to migrate, etc. The process of domestication begins as soon as the animal is put into a cage and given food by humans. If the animal is given food instead of hunting for it, then there is no need to retain the knowledge for survival in the wild. Domestication is a process, it takes time to change the mind of an animal, to forget the landscape you were born connected to. All animals have a desire to be free, it is within each and every one of our nature. When you cage any animal, including humans, they lose their wild spirit because we were never meant to be locked away in an enclosed space every day of our lives, generation after generation. All animals were born into an untamed world, constantly changing and evolving, and locking an animal in a cage strips them of the very world they were meant to live in.

  2. Posted by christys21 on November 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    The zoo has definately created too much of an “idealized” nature. Children go to the zoo, as you said, expecting to see exactly what they saw in the Lion King. Even the lions in this movie are in a more natural environment than those caged in the zoo.

    Zoos are just what Berger says they are, a collection to be “seen, observed, studied.” (23)
    However, even this is generalizing. The animals are kept in one location so that soceity can see them up close with less chances of being harmed. But these animals can’t be “studied” accurately if they are kept in artifical homes and fed by hand meat that a real animal would have to scavenger down for days.

    Berger says, “in the zoo, the view is always wrong.” It absolutely is; there is no truth to the action/personality of an animal that is more than likely home sick because it is caged up in a small compartement when it should really be free and roaming the plains.

    Berger, John. About Looking. InternationalCh./Art: Why Look at Animals? p. 28. pub. Vintage Sept 1991

  3. Posted by al002 on November 17, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I agree with everyone’s post that zoo are a false image of animals and their true forms. But has anyone considered why these animals are more docile, well maybe docile is the wrong word, but less active than those they are in the wild? This is because most animals are being raised by people from a very young age. Not only is this some fantasy for those who raise them (ever see Animal Planet’s ‘Growing Up…fill in the blank’) but they are accustomed to people making them more manageable for the zoo keepers, which is very beneficial for them. Also with wild animals they do not adjust to captivity very well as many zoos have discovered, they will refuse to eat and die. With zoos it seems like a double-edged sword. The idea of zoos being a nice idea but for the original uses it is not possible.

  4. Posted by michaelmichaelsmith on November 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I recently visited a zoo, the first time I had done so since I was a child, and as Berger suggests, found myself disappointed. The only thing I can say a zoo actually accomplishes is allowing men, women and children the opportunity to see an animal that they might only see in a magazine or a television show. But are these really the same animals? I don’t think they are. These are essentially domesticated pets made for viewing. They will live, reproduce and die in the zoo. Their offspring will meet the same fate, whether they stay at the same zoo or are sold to another. I have seen safari shows where a pack of lions will stalk and kill prey while narration explains the rawness and cyclical nature of life and death in the wild. What would these narrators say of a lion in a zoo?

    “This large cat languishes daily in the limited shade available in its pen. It mundanely ignores calls from zoo patrons to ‘do something!’ For what makes a lion a lion has been wholly removed. Sadly, it seems you can both take the lion out of the wild AND the wild out of the lion.”

  5. Posted by lpeake on November 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I think it is very telling that people expect zoo animals to be an entertainment to them rather than understanding that animals have their own lives and do not exist solely for the use of humans. Yes, a lot of what zoo’s do is beneficial to animal groups as a whole. They are able to keep certain species from going extinct, they can study them and help those who get sick. But for the individual animals who are kept in captivity, zoos are not such an amazing place. They are constantly berated by humans, most of whom go to zoos not to learn about animals but simply expecting them to perform and entertain, and have nothing to do all day except lie around, which studies have shown can lead to depression. Even animals can get depressed doing nothing all day, because they have their own lives, feelings, and desires, outside of the values (or lack there of) that humans place on them.

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