Thursday, March 5, 2009

Now I remember why I wrote "The Zoo War"

Here in Auckland, our City Council has just approved, in principle, the spending of $13.5million on creating a "herd" of elephants at Auckland Zoo by 2016. This, in a recession. This, on the eve, so to speak, of Auckland becoming a super-city/patchwork quilt/whatever the heck they plan to do after the Royal Commission have their say to the powers that be. This, which will mean more of Western Springs Park, 22,000 square metres, locked up as zoo land. I know there's lots of people who say "But we love elephants"" and "It's a world conservation measure!" To the former, I say, "Okay, but why in a recession when we're supposed to be belt-tightening," and to the latter, I say: conservation of world zoo animal stocks, sure. Not wild elephants -- elephants bred and raised in zoos tend to stay in zoos, and I don't care how many times you say that zoos have improved, become more "natural", more like the native habitats -- they are still zoos. They are not the real habitats of these creatures, the same habitats we keep on destroying and disrupting to fuel a worldwide economy which appears, at this time, to be on the skids. Apart from people finding money to buy more captive elephants, mind you.

There ya go, I'll get down off that particular soapbox, now.

Anyway -- looking up stuff on the Web (I want to find out just where they're going to hack away land from the park for this scheme) -- I found a Wiki article on Auckland Zoo. Regular readers of this blog know that I've already had a rave about one Wiki article, the one on Weetbix and its origins (my thanks to Jayne, by the way, for following up and trying to find info on this. The upshot appears to be a lot of scratched heads over there in cereal-making land.) The Wiki article uses the Auckland Zoo site as a source of information on the zoo's history. Now, I have no quibbles with the stuff from 1922 onwards. That's fairly well documented from City Council Archives and newspaper sources.

It's the stuff on J. J. Boyd. Particularly where they say:
"In February 1912, a "zoo" opened in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga. This area belonged to John James Boyd, who set up a private menagerie consisting of six lions, a tiger, a panther, one hyena and several monkeys..."
First, the quotes around "zoo". Perhaps the authors of the website feel that a true zoological park can only be on the huge sites most folk see as zoos today. Perhaps they see theirs as Auckland's first and only zoo. Truth is, although Boyd had only a 5½ acre section, he started off at Royal Oak with:
"...21 monkeys, a kangaroo and wallaby, two French rabbits, four opossums, two lemurs, two Indian cranes, two macaws and other parrots, guinea fowls, and cassowaries ...expecting 200 more parrots from Australia, and the following from Sydney Zoo: three bears, a leopard, a pair of kangaroos, tortoises, black swans, emus, kangaroo rats, wallabies, and golden pheasants. A young elephant, two cheetahs and buffalo were expected from India and Ceylon, and a tiger from Singapore ..."
This in 1911, as well, not 1912, and as at late 1911 he not only had his zoo at Royal Oak, but the earlier (1908) one at Aramoho near Wanganui, plus another at Wainoni, near Christchurch. By 1916, when he was down to just his Royal Oak zoo, Boyd advertised:
“ZOO. ROYAL OAK. – New Additions. Bear Cubs (Russian and Himilayan), 4 Cub Lions, 9 Large Lions, 5 American Black Bears, Japanese Bears, Malay Bears. Baboons, 100 Monkeys, host of other Wild Animals and Birds. Vehicles admitted free. Adults 6d. Children 3d. Open, every day. Fed, 4 p.m.”
(Advertisement, Auckland Star, 28 July 1916)

The numbers of individual animals and birds he had on that small section in Royal Oak ran into the hundreds. It went beyond "menagerie", although that was where its roots were -- just as with Auckland Zoo.

In The Zoo War (2008) I published this photo (sadly, only in greyscale). Installed by the Maungakiekie Community Board in the 1990s, every single paragraph on the sign is historically incorrect. It's even placed outside the wrong location for the Royal Oak Zoo -- outside the present-day school, which in Boyd's time was a neighbour's cow paddock (the zoo was next door, but a hundred metres or more further up.) The 1912 date used by Auckland Zoo probably comes from this inaccurate sign. Both sign and website were and are funded, ultimately, by rates. The rates I pay towards, as a property owner in Auckland City.

Just as, ultimately, I'll be paying towards more captive elephants and more open space taken up by Auckland Zoo.


  1. Interesting you should comment on the situation concerning the Indian Elephants at the Auckland zoo when I had just recently posted up an article on concerning the problems with elephants kept in groups of less then twelve. As you know I've read the Zoo War several times. I read the Herald Articles on the elephants and thought to myself at the time the elephants would be better off in a larger herd situation. The public want the elephants to stay I suppose it comes down to publicity and visitor dollars for the Auckland Zoo. On this I concur with you.

    Great post thanks Ice

    BTW I fixed the text problem on the Monks post


  2. "The public want the elephants to stay ..."

    If you have a look at the readers' comments on the Herald site -- I'd say public opinion is sharply divided on the issue, Liz. Looks like, instead of a single white elephant project, those who are in charge of our dollars have gone for a multi-grey elephant project instead. Different colour, same result.

    If they want an elephant herd -- there's still a lot of open land just outside the urban area. But then, it wouldn't exactly bring kudos anymore to the urban councils then, would it?

  3. Been a lot of controversy over the importation of elephants into Oz for Melb and Sydney zoos past few years, with RSPCA and other animal rights groups loudly against it.
    Now they're banging on about how clever they are coz they've worked out how to extract the male elephant's super-duper much-more-fertile-than-any-elephant-in-the-world sperm to flog off.

  4. Cheers for that link, Jayne. I agree with that Kerry Glenn quoted at the end of the article.

    "Kerry Glenn from the International Fund for Animal Welfare said the elephant breeding was only being done to "attract people to the zoos" and had "no conservation benefits".

    Ms Glenn said elephant conservation should focus on protecting wild elephants' habitat and stopping poachers and the ivory trade."

    Hear, hear.