A government survey last year showed experts believed it was time to phase out animals and breeding programmes at the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, the enclosures of which have courted controversy over the years.
One of the earliest mentions of a zoological garden in the South China Morning Post is from a January 1959 Urban Council meeting. With all major European cities boasting zoos, council member Hilton Cheong-leen said, “I believe it is the view of the overwhelming majority of the public that Hongkong should have a public zoological garden.”
Although the Botanical Gardens, as they were called, already had a few animals, he added that “they can hardly be called a collection”.
The first mention of the name as it is now rendered appeared in the Post on February 5, 1975, beneath the headline “No Longer Botanical Gardens”. The name change was made as the focus shifted to zoological exhibits with “ten new enclosures ... built to house 11 species of mammals”.
However, zoological exhibits had been present from the early days, with “monkeys, emus and storks” in the 1870s, “but by 1880, both the monkey house and aviaries were dilapidated and in need of repairs”. Before the second world war there were “two pens for cows and deer”, the Post reported on January 10, 1980. By the early 1970s, however, public sentiment had shifted and “conditions of this accommodation were no longer considered acceptable”, prompting the redevelopment and renaming that gave us the attraction we know today.
Honorary curator Dr Kenneth Searle explained in the Post in February 1981 that “There are only two moral justifications for keeping exotic creatures in captivity.”
First, people needed to be aware of “beautiful wild creatures” or else there would not have been any pressure to preserve wildlife. And “as more and more species become threatened with extinction, the only hope of preserving them for posterity is in captivity”.
Has the zoo met its goals?