Story at a glance

  • The young Central African man was held in the iron cage for several days during the week of Sept. 8, 1906 before outrage from local Black ministers brought the shameful incident to an end.
  • The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) president and CEO on Wednesday issued a formal apology condemning the incident.
  • The organization also denounced the eugenics-based, pseudoscientific racism, writings and philosophies of its two founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr.

In 1906, a young Central African man from the Mbuti people of present-day Democratic Republic of Congo was put on display in the Bronx Zoo’s monkey house for hundreds of people to see. 

Ota Benga was held in the iron cage for several days during the week of Sep. 8, 1906 before outrage from local Black ministers brought the shameful incident to an end. 


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Now, 114 years later, the organization that operates the famous zoo is apologizing for the unconscionable act. 

“In the name of equality, transparency, and accountability, we must confront our organization’s historic role in promoting racial injustice as we advance our mission to save wildlife and wild places,” the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) President and CEO Cristián Samper said in a statement Wednesday. 

“We deeply regret that many people and generations have been hurt by these actions or by our failure previously to publicly condemn and denounce them. We recognize that overt and systemic racism persists, and our institution must play a greater role to confront it,” Samper said.

The WCS explained one of the ministers who spoke up against the injustice against Benga arranged for him to stay at an orphanage in Brooklyn. 

“Robbed of his humanity and unable to return home, Ota Benga tragically took his life a decade later,” the statement said. 

The Wildlife Conservation Society has now made all known records related to Benga available online in an effort to “publicly acknowledge the mistakes of our past,” the statement said. 

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The organization also denounced the eugenics-based, pseudoscientific racism, writings and philosophies of its two founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr. 

Grant and Osborn were among the founders of the American Eugenics Society in 1926, and excerpts from Grant’s book “The Passing of the Great Race” were used in a defense exhibit for several defendants during the Nuremberg trials. 

The organization also announced it was hiring a diversity officer to work with leadership to ensure it is working towards their diversity, equity and inclusion plan. 

“Today I challenge myself and my colleagues to do better,” Samper wrote, “and to never look away whenever and wherever injustice occurs.”

Published on Jul 31, 2020