In a previous blog I made the claim that zoos are (with some notable exceptions) death-denying heritage environments. Like many National Trust, Cadw and English Heritage properties, memorials are kept to a minimum and controlled, so as not to over-run the space.
As Cornelius Holtorf has discussed, they project the image of animals as somehow timeless and outside of history, without death. Admittedly there are human memorials in some zoos and there are also some selected memorials to unique animals – usually primates and elephants – but most animals come and go without a memorial.
However, I have noticed a striking couple of exceptions at Chester Zoo that might reveal something about the overall theme.
1) A rare instance of a dead animal displayed at the zoo is the skull forming the backdrop to a habitat for living mongeese.
2) Another is the use of giant tortoise shells (obviously not real of course) to serve as a play feature and photo opportunity.
Why these only? I want to hazard a guess that this skull represents a grisly dimension of desert life, but plays well with children who in ‘Mongeese Mania’ can charge down tunnels to peek out at the mongeese in their habitat. Likewise, the ‘darkness’ of the empty tortoise shells is alleviated by the ability for them to serve as a focus of play activities and photographs of kids and adults within and upon the shells.
Whatever people think of these animal traces, these are a hit with the mongeese and kids!