By Eric Klein and Kevin Deutsch
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The operator of the Bronx Zoo apologized this week for “unconscionable racial intolerance” the zoo demonstrated when it exhibited an African man as an exotic animal and promoted the long-debunked study of racial science known as eugenics.
The two episodes, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, showed despicable racism, the organization said in a statement, marking the first time it’s apologized for the well-documented acts of hate.
“First, we apologize for and condemn the treatment of a young Central African from the Mbuti people of present-day Democratic Republic of Congo,” the society said in its statement, referring to the kidnapping and exhibiting of Ota Benga, who was displayed with monkeys as an exotic animal at the world-famous zoo. “Bronx Zoo officials, led by Director William Hornaday, put Ota Benga on display in the zoo’s Monkey House for several days during the week of September 8, 1906 before outrage from local Black ministers quickly brought the disgraceful incident to an end and the Reverend James Gordon arranged for Ota Benga to stay at an orphanage he directed in Weeksville, Brooklyn. Robbed of his humanity and unable to return home, Ota Benga tragically took his life a decade later.”
The zoo said it also wished to “apologize for and condemn bigoted actions and attitudes” in the early 1900s toward non-whites—especially African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants—“that characterized many notable institutions at the time, including our own.“