4. The Bronx Zoo Once Exhibited A Man In A Cage

Ota Benga-Bronx Zoo-NYC-Untapped CitiesImage from Wikimedia Commons

This particular fact is a ugly dark stain on the zoo’s reputation and the scientific community as a whole. Though it is lauded today as a ground-breaking zoo run by an organization heading conservation efforts all over the globe, this was a little misstep along the way. During September 1906, the zoo exhibited, in an iron house monkey cage, a young Congolese by the name of Ota Benga, who was advertised as a so-called “pygmy.”

The boy, at 103 pounds and 4’11” tall, was sanctioned to be exhibited by the zoological society, the mayor, scientists, the public, and national newspapers around the country. This exhibit goes back to the heavy racism that dominated science and academia for many years, and many members of the public went along with it, as evident by the 40,000 people visited the zoo per day during this time.

Soon after the exhibition opened, Benga started resisting his captivity becoming more aggressive with the zoo keepers when they tried to put him back into a cage. Benga’s protests finally earned him his release and was put into the care of Reverend who ran an orphan asylum in Brooklyn.

Benga stayed in the United States, slowly trying to adjust to the lifestyle. In the last six years of his life from 1910 to 1916, he lived in Virginia where he found work and became a beloved member of the African American community there. But his story ends on an even more tragic note as Benga suffered from depression and ultimately, committed suicide.