Play Date at the Zoo; The Sad Tale of Ota Benga

Author Adrienne Morris

Ota Benga at the Bronx Zoo Ota Benga at the Bronx Zoo

Ota Benga lived in a cage at the Bronx Zoo with the monkeys in 1906 and became a hugely popular exhibit as proof of evolution. Ota was a Pygmy from the Congo when the Congo was the playground and money making property of King Leopold of Belgium.

The pygmies were competitors in the ivory trade and  were systematically killed off; the rationale being that the pygmies,  so small and stupid, were obviously just one evolutionary tick away from the little monkeys. Darwin once wrote: “The civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”  No biggie. Science was the new religion–minus the love and compassion.

Ota came to America after he was purchased by a noted American explorer from South Carolina, Phillips Verner, who planned to exhibit him at the 1904 World’s Fair. Falling on hard times…

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2 thoughts on “Play Date at the Zoo; The Sad Tale of Ota Benga

  1. I know what you mean, Pete. I’m not so sure, though, that we have moved on as much as we’d like to think. When I read about the hate crimes against immigrants and the disabled, it makes me ashamed to be part of the human race, as does much else on this planet. I believe such reactions come from the same mindset that put Ota Benga in a zoo.


  2. What a tragic tale of human ignorance, not that long ago. Very upsetting, and made me feel a little ashamed. Not that I was anything to do with those events, but something inside me felt somehow responsible. How we have progressed in so short a time. At least, I hope we have…
    Best wishes, Pete.


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