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The last three decades have witnessed a dramatic shift in the governance of North American zoo animals. During this period, captive animal administration has transformed from a materially, geographically, and technologically limited enterprise – focused on the control of individual zoo animals within specific North American zoo institutions – into an ambitious collective project that encompasses all accredited North American zoos and that governs over a million zoo animals. Tapping into a sophisticated voluntary and collaborative self-monitored administration, zoos have been able to rely upon genetics and demography to achieve the ultimate goal of captive animal conservation. The essay frames this story of animal governance as surveillance. It identifies three layers that work interdependently to produce captive animal surveillance in North American zoos: elementary surveillance, which includes the naming, identifying, and recording of captive animals on the institutional level; dataveillance, or the global computerized management of animal populations; and collective reproductive control. What underlies these three modes of surveillance – referred to here as “zooveillance” – are notions of care, stewardship, and conservation. Based on a series of sixty semi-structured, in-depth interviews conducted with prominent zoo professionals in North America between May 2009 and April 2011, as well as on observations of zoo operations and of professional meetings, the essay explores the relevancy and importance of applying the framework of surveillance in the nonhuman context of zoo animals.
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