The venerable Bronx Zoo operator, one of the world’s most famous parks, has apologized for two “undisputed” racist episodes in its past, including putting an African man on screen in a monkey house in 1906.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo in addition to 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 face with the historic role of our organization in promoting racial injustice. “
The society cited its treatment of a Central African youth by the Mbuti people in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo.
“His name was Ota Benga,” the statement said. Bronx Zoo officials “placed Ota Benga on display at the zoo’s Monkey House for a few days during the week of September 8, 1906 before anger from black local ministers quickly brought the embarrassing incident to an end.”
One of those ministers, Rev. James Gordon, “arranged for Ota Benga to stay at an orphanage he ran in Weeksville, Brooklyn,” the statement said. “Robbed by his humanity and unable to return home,” Ota Benga died of suicide a decade later.
All known records of Ota Benga in 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 denounced the “racism, writings, and philosophies based on eugenics, pseudoscientific,” promoted by two of its founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr.
Grant marked an infamous eugenics book, “The Passage of the Great Race,” with an introduction by Osborn.
The book was submitted as a defense exhibition to Nazi doctor Karl Brandt, a 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 a war crimes tribunal in 1947 and killed in 1948.
The wildlife society said in its statement, which was first reported by The New York Times, that it is obliged to deal with these episodes.
“We are deeply saddened that so many people and generations have been hurt by these actions or by our previous failure to publicly condemn and punish them,” the statement said. “We recognize that open and systematic racism persists, and our institution must play a greater role in tackling it. As the United States addresses its legacy of anti-Black racism and the brutal killings that have led to mass protests. “Worldwide, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that social, racial and environmental justice are rooted in our conservation mission.”
The organization also announced that it was hiring a diversity officer to help “provide various pools of candidates for recruitment, promotion and next planning, including our board and leadership.”
“Today we challenge ourselves to do better and never look away when and where injustice occurs,” the statement said.