The operator of the prestigious Bronx Zoo, one of the world’s most famous wildlife parks, has apologized for two “inaccessible” racist episodes in the past, including putting an African man on display at a monkey house in 1906.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo in addition to three other New York zoos and aquariums, said this week that “for the sake of equality, transparency and accountability, we must confront our organization’s historic role in promoting racial injustice.” “.
The society refers to the treatment of a young Central African man from the Mbuti people in the modern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“His name was Otto Beng,” the statement said. Bronx Zoo officials “put Otto Beng on display at the zoo’s monkey house for several days during the week of September 8, 1906, before the outrage of local black ministers quickly ended the infamous incident.”
One of these ministers, the Rev. James Gordon, “arranged for Otto Beng to remain in the orphanage he ran in Wicksville, Brooklyn,” the statement said. “Deprived of his humanity and unable to return home,” Otto Benga died of suicide ten years later.
All known records of Otto Bengu in wildlife society are now 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 denied the “eugenic, pseudo-scientific racism, works and philosophies” put forward by its two founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborne, Sr.
Grant wrote the infamous book of eugenics, The Passage of the Great Race, with a preface by Osborne.
The book was presented as a defense exhibit for Nazi doctor Karl Brandt, director of the Third Reich’s 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 and sentenced to death in 1948.
The Wildlife Society said in a statement, first reported by The New York Times, that it had a duty to counter these episodes.
“We deeply regret that many people and generations have suffered from these actions or because of our inability to publicly condemn and condemn them in the past,” the statement said. “We recognize that overt and systemic racism persists, and our institution must play a greater role in countering it. As the United States decides its legacy against black racism and the brutal killings that have led to mass protests around the world, we reaffirm our commitment to that. that social, racial and environmental justice be deeply rooted in our conservation mission. “
The organization also announced that it is hiring a diversity officer to help “provide diverse groups of candidates for recruitment planning, promotion and succession planning, including our board and leadership.”
“Today, we urge ourselves to do better and never look away when and where injustice occurs,” the statement said.