Moving Animals

Research project

Historians of globalization have shown that the ways in which humans, commodities, money and ideas move across the world has changed dramatically over the past century. So far, they have only shown limited attention, however, for the movement of animals and how this movement has been understood, represented and managed by humans.

‘Moving Animals’ will analyse how the long-distance movement of undomesticated animals became the object of scientific study, media coverage and policy regimes. As such, it will highlight how the interplay of knowledge, representation, and management shaped the place and space of wild animals in today’s globalizing world. Four types of movement will take centre stage.

Sub-Project #1: Invasions

The first subproject, carried out by Vincent Bijman, concerns the ways in which science, culture and policy tried to come to terms with animal invasions – or the movement of animals to places where they are not ‘native’. Although the first textbooks of invasion ecology were published in the 1950s and the discipline only professionalized in the 1980s, the phenomenon of biological invasions already became the object of scientific study, cultural reflection and policy intervention around 1900. Through case studies, this subproject will explore how invasions were made culturally and scientifically visible and politically manageable throughout the twentieth century.

Sub-Project #2: Reintroductions

While humans have tried to counter the intrusion of ‘alien’ animals in several ways, they have also set up various projects to reintroduce ‘native’ species that went locally extinct. This particular form of animal movement is the subject of subproject 2, conducted by Monica Vasile. Such reintroduction projects, first launched in some European countries in the 1920s, only really developed into an accepted conservation strategy since the 1970s – through the combined effort of zoological gardens, governmental agencies, and international conservation organizations. The subproject will focus on how reintroduction projects have exploited these networks to mobilize people, institutions, technologies and animals across borders.

Sub-Project #3: Migrations

Whereas invasions and reintroductions constitute movements in which the presence of human intervention is relatively clear, other kinds of animal mobility are mostly presented as part of the natural order of things. This is notably the case for long-distance seasonal migrations. These so-called ‘great migrations’ have been important objects of scientific research, cultural imagination, conservationist concern, and – indeed – human management. Vanessa Bateman, leading this subproject, researches how social relations with migrating animals have developed in relation to changing landscapes, cultural sensibilities, and scientific theories and technologies (ranging from rings, over radio-tracking devices to drones). As many migratory animals have a high cultural visibility as icons of wilderness, as indicators of the health of ecosystems or as objects of human consumption, they offer an ideal subject to unpack the changing position of undomesticated animals in a globalizing world.

Sub-Project #4: Zoo Traffic

One very influential way of making far-off undomesticated animals visible to large audiences has been to move them to zoological gardens. Subproject 4, carried out by Raf De Bont, concentrates on the locating, catching, transporting, keeping alive, breeding and exchanging of ‘exotic’ animals. It will pay particular attention the practical expertise and scientific knowledge that was invested in these activities. In the nineteenth century, zoo animal traffic was largely informed by acclimatization science, which according to historians was only of limited success. The twentieth century, however, saw the advent of sciences such as ethology and zoo science – which showed a particular interest in the animal’s use of space both in the wild and in captivity. The subproject will explore how such knowledge was employed to re-organize and standardize the global flow of zoo animals, and in this way reposition zoos in the public mind.

* Credits images (from top to bottom): Boulenger (1907), Biodiversity Heritage Library // Silviu Mattei (2014) // Make it a Kenya Picture, Stuart Price // Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen // Runner 1928, Wikimedia commons // Johann Büttikofer  (1946) // Ramos Keith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2013), Wikimedia commons// Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen.