Moving Animals

Raf De Bont published the article, “Moving across the Zoo–Field Border: Heini Hediger in Congo,” in the September 2022 issue of Isis: An International Review Devoted to the History of Science and its Cultural Influences. The article explores “why the Basel zoo director Heini Hediger had to travel to the interior of Belgian Congo to rethink the practice of zoo management in Switzerland (and eventually the world).”

Here is an abstract of the article, and the full version is Open Access here!

The twentieth century witnessed the rise of zoo biology. Such a discipline might seem anchored in a specific spatial setting (that of the zoological garden), but if historians want to understand its development they should not limit their view to the confines of the zoo grounds. After all, understanding animals and their behavior at the zoo often involved thinking about them in other spaces as well. Notably, the “artificial” state of animals in captivity invited reflection on their “natural” condition in the wild. In order to study the changing relation between science performed at the zoo and in the field, this essay conceptualizes a “zoo–field border”—arguing that movements across this border are crucial to understanding practices on both sides. In particular, the essay analyzes a field expedition to the national parks of the Belgian Congo set up in 1948 by Heini Hediger, the Swiss zoologist who is often credited as the pioneer of zoo biology. Hediger’s expedition, it argues, involved conceptual, methodological, and logistical border-crossing. The combination of these forms, then, ultimately enabled a rethinking of animals and their behaviors on both sides of the border.