In New York, Bronx is now home to 'Wildlife Conservation Park'


February 04, 1993|By Francis X. Clines | Francis X. Clines,New York Times News Service Staff writer David Michael Ettlin contributed to this article.

NEW YORK -- The New York Zoological Society, deciding that the word "zoo" had become an urban pejorative with a limited horizon, announced yesterday that it was dropping the word from the names of the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Queens Zoo and the Prospect Park Zoo.

They are to be called "wildlife conservation parks" beginning Monday, said William Conway, president of the society. Mr. Conway concedes that he runs a great risk of bestirring much of the urban menagerie beyond the 10,000 creatures of the, uh, zoos. But he says he must do something about the little word.

"I've been here 37 years, and it's like changing my father's name," he said. "But it's about time."

After arguing over the idea of casting aside "zoo" for the last two years, the society's directors finally agreed with Mr. Conway that the time had come to make the serious point to the city and the world that the society runs much more than zoos, with 158 conservation and research projects flourishing worldwide.

"It's short and snappy -- zoo -- and we know we created a problem. But in 'The American Heritage Dictionary' the word 'zoo' has a secondary meaning of a situation or place marked by 'rampant confusion or disorder,' " Mr. Conway said. "We are not confused or disordered. And it's really too late for the simple idea of conventional zoos. We need a sea change."

The 98-year-old society is so set on its course that it does not even want to see the word in its own title and is officially changing its name to NYZS/The Wildlife Conservation Society.

Under the society's new name roster, the official versions will be the International Wildlife Conservation Park for the Bronx Zoo, formerly the New York Zoological Park (the borough's name also is being dropped); the Central Park Wildlife Conservation Center; the Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation; the Queens Wildlife Conservation Center; and the Prospect Park Wildlife Conservation Center.

"We like to create a little controversy," Mr. Conway said, noting how city dwellers can come to take for granted the amenities of the Bronx Zoo and the others.

Asked about possible confusion resulting among the city's Homo sapiens, Mr. Conway apologized a bit but said he hoped New Yorkers would come to realize the changing world implicit in the new title.

"I'm not opposed to the idea," said Brian A. Rutledge, director of the Baltimore Zoo, pointing to a perceived need among the nation's "accredited facilities" to clearly distinguish themselves from "uncontrolled roadside zoos and private collections that are poorly run."

"Any collection of animals is termed a zoo, and there are only about 160 of us that are accredited facilities that self-enforce certain ethical and professional policies," Mr. Rutledge said, "and there is a concern about being affiliated with those that do not meet that criterion. I think it's unfortunate that we have this problem."

Even so, Mr. Rutledge said, there is no plan to call the Baltimore attraction anything but "zoo."

Mr. Conway said that because 800 million people visit zoos around the world, the New York society's ultimate goal was to educate the world to "a new kind of understanding and make the old-fashioned menagerie come to be seen for what it has become -- a conservation center."

"Calling Yankee Stadium 'the Bronx Zoo' is the kind of thing I'm talking about," he said when asked what was wrong with the old designation. He referred to the nickname for the baseball operation under George S. Steinbrenner's ownership.

"And the other day a friend asked a taxi driver to take him to the Central Park Zoo and the guy said, 'Which zoo? The whole city's a zoo.' "

There was considerable debate and resentment at first among zoo attendants and executives when the change was debated, Mr. Conway said.

"Interestingly enough, people became involved and realized the problem -- getting across the idea of wildlife conservation -- and almost all have begun dropping the word 'zoo,'" he said.

But it turns out that changing a simple word can involve all sorts of repercussions, he discovered. In many foreign languages, for example, "wildlife" means "meat," a notion the society wants to discourage. So in those areas, the society's logo -- two romping impala -- will be stressed as an identity.

Except maybe in Brazil, Mr. Conway allowed, where one of his experts points out anxiously that images of horned animals can imply homosexuality. "We'll work it all out," he said.

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