Liminal Animals in Liminal Spaces: A Day at Berlin Zoo
Abstract: This reflexive essay is based on a visit to Berlin Zoo on an overcast February day. It attempts to make sense of the “zoo experience” through critical self-reflection and observations of how visitors relate to animal others. The concept of zoo inhabitants as liminal beings, neither domesticated nor truly wild, is explored. Animals born and raised in captivity do not belong in the wild any more than their ancestors belonged in a zoo. Although they likely could not survive in their “natural” habitats, they are no less “elephant” or “tiger” than free-living members of the same species. These animals occupy liminal spaces where they are subject to “the gaze” and exist as entertainers and educators. Despite concerns regarding the ethics of keeping captive wild animals, I argue that, given proper respect and husbandry, keeping some individuals as ambassador animals could be justified. However, any moral justification for captivity should be considered from the perspective of individual animals and species.
Keywords: Animal Exhibits, Gaze, Liminality, Zoos
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