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Human Beings Caged For Public Display At Adelaide Zoo


Published: 14 March 2007 (GMT+10)
Photo by Peter Sparrow Cropped sign

If the above headline was published, without explanation, there would be cries of ‘Outrageous!’, ‘Evil!’, ‘Abusive!’, and ‘Barbaric!’ etc., flooding in from all sectors of our society. Such reactions are always evoked whenever people are treated as less than human. Fortunately this was not the case in Adelaide during January this year when 24 people were locked inside one of the great ape enclosures (minus the previous occupants) at Adelaide Zoo and put on public display.1,2 The inmates were chosen after being interviewed and auditioned to determine their suitability and their entertainment talents. The ‘winners’ were divided into 4 groups of 6 with each group spending one week each inside the enclosure to be ogled and gawked at by visitors to the zoo.

So there was no outcry from the general public because the inmates were volunteers, there by choice, selected from hundreds of hopefuls for ‘10 seconds of fame’. And their living conditions were far from ‘primitive’. They were given clothing and had private toilet facilities. Their enclosure was spacious with a jungle theme and contained lots of leafy trees with ropes and swings. To pass the time they had rocks to sit on, soft grass to lie on and lots of toys to play with, including puzzles and painting canvasses. To help them cope with the hot weather they had a large spa bath in which to relax, the trees and a large beach umbrella for shade, a cold water shower and ice cubes for their drinks. Most of us do not ‘get it that good’ even on holidays. Their only concessions to the zoo world of real apes were a daily veterinary examination, no electronic gadgetry like mobile phones, TVs or MP3 players and they had to forage for their daily food which was hidden all over the enclosure. Totally unlike the apes, they had individual wireless microphone headsets to enable communication with the public which was viewing them from outside the enclosure. They were also allowed to go home to their families to spend the night after the zoo had closed each evening.

Photo by Peter Sparrow Human exhibit
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The viewing public, which included a great many children, could request entertainment items of the ‘exhibits’. Song and/or dance routines were popular as were imitations of great ape behaviour. One of the male ‘exhibits’ was told to stop giving his imitation of a great ape call because it was too upsetting for the nearby permanent residents. The viewers were also able to vote for their favorite inmate with the weekly poll winner receiving a prize at the end of their stay and the overall winner receiving a trip for two to Hawaii.

Publicized primarily as a stunt to have fun, build awareness of conservation issues and raise money for a new chimpanzee enclosure, this exercise also had a hidden darker side.

The ‘Human Zoo’ was teaching two main messages. Firstly, that man is just another animal, the most highly evolved of the great apes and the most dangerous of them as well. There were posters around the exhibit showing a picture of a man with the caption ‘The Most Dangerous’ and they also had t-shirts for sale with the same caption emblazoned across them. Secondly, they were teaching a message of conservation and preservation of the remaining great apes. Around the exhibit were static displays showing that the great ape populations of the world are diminishing because their habitats are being destroyed by the most dangerous great ape, man.

Photo by Peter Sparrow shirt
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These two messages are contradictory. The idea of an evolutionary conservationist is an oxymoron. Evolution is an upward process which, supposedly, changes single cells into sparrows through random mutations filtered by natural selection—survival of the fittest. If this is true then conservation would seem to be the most foolish and potentially destructive cause humans can be involved in. If man is a product of survival of the fittest then wouldn’t it be to our evolutionary advantage that we remove all those creatures less fit than ourselves? Suppose man invests time, energy and resources into conserving a particular species. It is possible, given an evolutionary scenario, that evolution could produce a variant of that species which is superior to man and which eventually eliminates him from the face of the earth. With such an outlook, if evolutionists wish to preserve our species then one would think they ought not be involved in conservation schemes. On the other hand, if people believe that everything has been created by an omnipotent and omniscient Creator who then gave man stewardship over his own portion of that creation, conservation makes sense.

I believe everybody has the knowledge that man is not just another animal.3 Not just Christians but everybody—atheists, agnostics and the adherents of all other religions in the world as well. Whether they admit it to themselves or not this truth is evidenced in two different ways, one extrinsic and the other intrinsic.

Firstly, show me an animal that can read and understand the written word and converse with me by spoken word. There are none. This is an ability which transcends intelligence and learning. Some people diagnosed as less intelligent than apes are able to communicate far more efficiently even after the apes have been given years of intensive training. There is an observable gulf between animals and man which no animal has been able to bridge.

Secondly, the Bible tells us that God’s law is written on the hearts of all people, everywhere (Romans 2:14–15). God’s law proclaims that human life is infinitely more valuable than animal life. Why? Because man is not only a creature made by God but is also a creature made in the image of God. However, just because we each have the law written on our hearts does not mean that we obey it or even acknowledge it.

The ‘Human Zoo’ was really teaching children, and their parents, to ignore the truth inherent in our daily observations of animals and to ignore that still small voice of truth which comes from within them, and to believe instead that man is just another animal.

But in fact, the special treatment given to the volunteer ‘inmates’ confirms that man is not ‘just another animal’,. Contrast the volunteers (humans) with the permanent zoo residents, and we see that the reality fits with man having been given dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:26–28), not vice versa. Also, man was not told to rule over man. So, it’s quite appropriate that the volunteer ‘inmates’ were free to go home each evening—hopefully to ponder what it all really means.

References and notes

  1. Adelaide Now… The Human Zoo, http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/feature/ranked/1,,5011180,00.html, 7 February 2007. Return to text.
  2. A similar stunt had been ‘performed’ at London Zoo in 2005. See: Humans in zoo—by choice. Return to text.
  3. In fact, man’s actual status is ‘a little lower than the angels’ (Psalm 8:5, Hebrews 2:7)—in stark contrast to today’s common tendency to disparagingly portray man as being something lower than the animals (or ‘other animals’ as they would put it). Return to text.