The operator of the venerable Bronx Zoo, one of the world’s most famous wilderness parks, has in the past apologized for two “incompatible” racist episodes, including the placement of an African man on display in a monkey house in 1906.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo in addition to three other New York zoos and aquariums, said in a statement this week that “in the name of equality, transparency and accountability, we must confront our organization’s historic role” in promoting racial injustice. ‘ “
The company cited its treatment of a young Central African man from the Mbuti population in today̵7;s Democratic Republic of Congo.
“His name was Ota Benga,” the statement said. Officials at the Bronx Zoo “exposed Otu Bengu at the zoo’s monkey house for several days a week on September 8, 1906, while outrage by local black ministers quickly ended the disgraceful incidents.”
One of these ministers, Rev. James Gordon, “arranged for Otto Benga to remain in the orphanage he directed at Weeksville, Brooklyn,” the statement said. “Robbed of his humanity and unable to return home,” Ota Benga died of suicide ten years later.
All known records about Ota Benga in the Wildlife Society are now being made available online as part of an effort to “publicly acknowledge the mistakes of our past,” the statement said.
The organization, founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, also condemned “eugenics based on pseudo-scientific racism, writings, and philosophies,” developed by two of its founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr.
Grant wrote the infamous eugenics book “The Transition of the Great Race” with a preface by Osborn.
The book was presented as an exhibition of defense for Nazi physician Karel Brandt, director of the Third Reich euthanasia program, and other defendants in the Nuremberg trials.
Brandt, who was also Adolf Hitler’s personal physician, was convicted by the War Crimes Tribunal in 1947 and killed in 1948.
The Wildlife Society said in a statement, first reported by The New York Times, that it was required to confront the episodes.
“We are very sorry that many people and generations have been injured by this act or our inability to publicly condemn and convict them,” the statement said. “We are aware that overt and systematic racism persists and our institution must play a greater role in confronting it. As the United States addresses its legacy of anti-black racism and the brutal killings that have led to mass protests around the world, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that social, racial and environmental justice are deeply rooted in our nature conservation mission. ‘ “
The organization also announced that it is hiring a Diversity Officer to help “secure diverse groups of candidates for recruitment, promotion and succession planning, including our advice and leadership.”
“Today, we call on ourselves to do better and never look far, whenever and wherever injustice occurs,” the statement said.