‘Zoophilia’ or ‘Philotheria’

It goes without saying that if you work in a zoo you are most inclined to be an ‘animal person.’  A gift from a zoo the other day, a publication of the institution’s history, reminded me of something that is not necessarily an important distinction, but it might reflect a cultural change or shift, if you will. I remember a time when there were more zoo historians among the cohort of animal care professionals and educators. There still may be, it’s just that most of the  classically diagnosed cases of zoophilia were reported in people who I know to be enjoying retirement right now. I categorize animal care and zoo educators as either ‘zoophiles’ or more general animal enthusiasts (philotherians). By my definition, ‘zoophiles’ are individuals who seem to be fascinated with all- things- zoo: History; exhibits; the evolution of living collections; zoo and aquarium culture; and the generations of personnel who have worked in these facilities. Others are not zoos aficionados per se. For instance, when on vacation they would be just as likely to be found eco-touring, horseback riding or playing with a local, domestic canid. Others would most certainly make it a point to visit the zoo first. Some would do both, but I think that there are two kinds of zoo people and they both are just as dedicated to their careers. However, one is much more interested in the zoo, beyond the living collection, while the other may be more focused on animals in general. Perhaps, the differences are not quite so discrete.  I found it interesting that people sometimes presume that because I found the zoo environment so enticing that I would feel the same way about a dog shelter or alternative livestock farm, or wholesale pet breeding facility. Hopefully some of you can relate to what I hope  not to be a novel concept. You can be a generalist, but it depends on the context.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

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