States of exemption: the legal and animal geographies of American zoos
The paper explores the interconnections between legal and animal geographies as manifested in American zoos. On the one hand, law shapes not only the zoo’s physical facilities, but also the very identity of zoo animals. On the other hand, the peculiarity of zoo animals—and of zoos as public spaces that display such animals—also translates into an anomalous state of zoo laws. The paper is divided into three parts. The first part demonstrates that, despite the numerous official laws that pertain to animals in various settings, exceptions and exemptions that apply to the zoo animal make it into an almost extralegal creature. The second part examines the laws that regulate the zoo’s physical facilities, showing how—in this context too—the zoo is regulated mostly through variances and exceptions. The third part focuses on the zoo’s self-regulating industry standards, arguing that they provide yet another reason for the peculiar legal state of zoos and their animals. Drawing on a set of interviews, conducted mostly with American zoo professionals, the paper explores the interstitial nature of law, space, and animals, offering a fresh perspective into, and a few interconnections between, the literatures of animal geography and law and geography.
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