National Geographic : 1957 Apr
The Wild Animals in My Life 497 A Noted Zoo Director, Now Retired, Recalls the Highlights of 30 Years' Collecting, Trading, and Nursemaiding Birds and Beasts BY WILLIAM M. MANN I BRACED myself for the inevitable ques tion, and before the soup was cool, it came. Brightly my dinner partner turned to me and said: "Dr. Mann, tell us: In all your years of dealing with wild animals, what has been your most exciting moment? Was it in Africa? Up the Amazon? In the jungles of Sumatra?" I sighed, reluctant to add her to the ranks of the disillusioned. "As a matter of fact, my most exciting moment took place at my desk in the zoo. The phone rang, and at the other end was the office of Mr. Harold Ickes, head of the Public Works Administration. "They told me that we had been allotted $870,000-the biggest appropriation for new construction we'd ever had. It meant we could finish the birdhouse, build two new animal houses, and put up some needed ma chine shops. I nearly dropped the receiver." "Oh." The lady was disappointed. They all are, when I tell that story. But any zoo director will understand. Beasts from Aardvarks to Zebras Many American kids grow up with an itch to be a policeman. So did I, but with a dif ference. After haunting Chicago's Lincoln Park zoo in the summer of 1895, when I was nine years old, I knew I wanted to be a police man-in a zoo. I saw myself in daydreams sporting a big mustache, swinging a club, spending all my time with the animals, and being kind to visiting children. Well, I have eventually grown the mus tache, lost interest in the club, spent nearly all my time with animals, and proved reason ably nice to visiting children-as long as they don't throw rocks at the bears. I've never donned that policeman's blue suit, but I have served as director of the National Zoological Park in Washington, D. C., for nearly a third of a century, col lecting, trading, nursemaiding, and boarding beasts and birds, from aardvarks to zebras, from vest-pocket-sized shrews to skyscraper giraffes. And I've enjoyed just about every minute of it. Our zoological park is called "National," and it is. A division of the Smithsonian In stitution, it receives its financial support from the District of Columbia government and Congress. If I should ever be tempted to think of the zoo as a mere appendage of the District of Columbia, I need only walk past our parking facilities. There on any good day I can spot license plates from virtually every State in the Union. Zoo Displays Real Prizes In our 175-acre compound on the banks of Rock Creek we have not only a compre hensive cross section of the animal kingdom but also several real prizes. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's... ox, nor his ass...." Right! But what rival curator could resist coveting our fossa (a civet from Madagascar), a rarity in any zoo, or our hybrid bears, Frances and Elizabeth the "impossible" grandchildren of an Alaskan big brown bear and a polar bear? Who wouldn't want our tuatara, a New Zealand reptile related to the ancient dino saurs? Frankly, I should hesitate to trust one of our out-of-town competitors alone with, for instance, our "white," or square lipped, African rhinos, the only specimens of their kind on exhibit in the New World. The Author Director of the National Zoological Park in Wash ington, D. C., from 1925 to 1956, Dr. Mann enjoys an international reputation as an authority on zoo animals and ants. More than 100 species of insects bear the honorary ascription manni, and the personal collection of 117,000 ants he gave the Smithsonian Institution in 1955 ranks among the world's finest. Never too busy to answer questions from the Na tional Geographic, Dr. Mann for 30 years has helped to assure the accuracy of natural history information in The Magazine. He led the highly successful Na tional Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution expedition described in "Around the World for Ani mals" in the June, 1938, issue, and his other notable contributions have ranged from ants to apes: "Stalk ing Ants, Savage and Civilized," August, 1934; "Monkey Folk," May, 1938; and "Man's Closest Counterparts," August, 1940. His works include two popular books, Ant Hill Odyssey and Wild Animals In and Out of the Zoo.