|Date of birth, Place:||01.12.1854, Plainfield, Indiana, USA|
|Date of death, Place:||06.03.1937, Stamford, Connecticut, USA|
|Burial site:||Greenwich, Connecticut, USA|
William Hornaday was a naturalist, hunter, collector, taxidermist, and conservationist. As a young man, he attended college at Oskaloosa College and Iowa State University. He left school in 1873 and went to work for Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York, as an apprentice taxidermist. The young Hornaday excelled in his work and soon became a highly regarded collector of wild animals. He was the first person to document the presence of crocodiles in Florida, and later collecting expeditions took him to locations such as Cuba, the Bahamas, South America, India, Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula, and Borneo in the 1870s. In 1886, he published a popular account of his travels, Two Years in the Jungle.
He soon became known for his dramatic “life groups” of animals for museum displays. He was chief taxidermist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum in the 1880s, when he decided to mount a group of bison. The fate of the American Bison seemed to stir Hornaday most deeply, perhaps because he had himself witnessed the systematic slaughter of this species in the West. His difficulty to collect specimens of bison for his exhibit transformed him into an conservationist and his 1889 book, The Extermination of the American Bison, established him as a prominent defender of these animals. Later in his career, in 1902, he co-founded (with Theodore Roosevelt) the National Bison Society.
He campaigned for a zoological park large enough to serve as a breeding facility for bison and other endangered animals. This started with a department of living animals at the Smithsonian, and soon — after some serious lobbying — he was asked by his superiors to survey a site in Washington, D.C., where a permanent zoo could be established. When the Smithsonian Institution purchased Rock Creek Park in 1890, a plan was drafted to create a zoological park. Unfortunately, Hornaday had a dispute with the Secretary of the Smithsonian over his title and duties at the new zoo, and the design of the zoo, and so he left Washington without seeing the zoo completed. Unstoppable, though, he went on to become the founding director of the New York Zoological Society in 1896, a position he held for the next 30 years.
As many American zoos purchased animals from Carl Hagenbeck, American zoo directors soon became familiar with Hagenbeck’s patented idea for animal display. These moated enclosures without bars without obstructed sight lines, became popular with zoogoers very quickly. American zoo directors, however, remained cautious, and William Hornaday was dead set against them. He had several reasons for this. It would decrease the eductional value of the zoo, because it increased the distance between animals and public. The closer the better man can study the animal, according Hornaday. Furthermore, these large and expensive exhibits would become a resource burden and lead to a decrease in the animals on display, said Hornaday.
Hornaday described his ideal zoo as “midway between the typical 30-acre zoological garden of London, Paris, Antwerp, or Philadelphia, and the great private game reserve”. Hornaday envisioned a Zoological Park that would give visitors a real sense of an animal’s behavior and natural habitat.
As director of the New York (Bronx) Zoo Hornaday met some controversy in 1906, when Ota Benga, a pygmy native of the Congo, was exhibited in the monkey house. Benga shot targets with a bow and arrow, wove twine, and wrestled with an orangutan. Soon he decided to close the exhibit, without apologising and suggesting that the incident would form the most amusing passage in the Zoo’s history, when written. Most striking of course, was the difference in response to the exhibition of primitive people in Europe when Carl Hagenbeck first introduced it in the 1870s.
- Animal Attractions, nature on display in American zoos by Elizabeth Hanson;
- William Temple Hornaday Visionary of the National Zoo, Feb. 1989; website National Zoological Park;
- William Temple Hornaday, saving the American bison; website Smithsonian Institution Archives.
Preserving the fight for wildlife
The Wildlife Conservation Scrapbooks of William T. Hornaday
During his life William T. Hornaday led several campaigns to protect North American wildlife, such as the formation of a protected game preserve in British Columbia, the development of a herd for the Montana National Bison Range, and the development of legislation to regulate the overhunting of wildlife.
In his scrapbooks, Hornaday gathered up the fragments — the thousands of newspaper clippings, magazine articles, pamphlets, correspondence, and ephemera — concerning these campaigns. In doing so, he was consciously constructing a history of early efforts to protect wildlife, a fact underscored by his own title for the collection: The William T. Hornaday Scrapbook Collection on the History of the Wild Life Protection and Extermination.
Ten of these scrapbooks have been digitised and made publicly available online by the Wildlife Conservation Society in April 2014 on the website: hornadayscrapbooks.com.