The operator of the venerable Bronx Zoo, one of the world’s most famous wildlife parks, has apologized for two “unconscious” racist episodes from his past, including placing an African man on display in a monkey house. in 1906.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the Bronx Zoo as well as three other zoos and an aquarium in New York City, said in a statement this week that in the name of equality, transparency and accountability , we must address the historical role of our organization. in the promotion of racial injustice. “
The society cited the treatment of a young Central African man from the Mbuti people in the current Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Her name was Ota Benga,” the statement said. Bronx Zoo officials “exposed Ota Benga at the Monkey House for several days during the week of September 8, 1906 before the outrage of local black ministers quickly put an end to the unfortunate incident.”
One of those ministers, Rector James Gordon, “arranged for Ota Benga to stay in an orphanage leading to Weeksville, Brooklyn,” the statement said. “Stolen from his humanity and unable to return home,” Ota Benga died by suicide a decade later.
All known records about Ota Benga in the wildlife society are now 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 denounced the “racism, writings, and pseudoscientific philosophies based on eugenics” advanced by two of its founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr.
Grant wrote a famous eugenics book, “The Passage of the Great Race,” with a preface by Osborn.
The book was presented as a defense exhibition for Nazi physician Karl Brandt, a director of the “euthanasia” program of the Third Reich 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 died in 1948.
The Wildlife Society said in its statement, which was first reported by The New York Times, that it is bound to face these episodes.
“We deeply regret that many people and generations have been hurt by these actions or by our previous failure to condemn and denounce them publicly,” the statement states. “We recognize that systematic racism persists and that our institution must play a greater role in addressing it. As the United States addresses the legacy of anti-black racism and the brutal killings that have sparked mass protests throughout the world, We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that social, racial and environmental justice is deeply rooted in our conservation mission. “
The organization also announced it was hiring a diversity officer to help “secure various groups of candidates for recruitment, promotion and estate planning, including our advice and leadership.”
“Today we are challenged to do better and never look out when and where an injustice occurs,” the statement said.