After a gorilla was recently shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo when a 4-year-old boy fell into its enclosure, a lot of the discourse stemmed from the idea of zoos and whether they should exist.
The photographer Arko Datto has been studying zoo animals around the world via live online video for his series Captivecam. It’s the third part of a trilogy Datto began four years ago that examines the ways in which the internet is used as a “global Panopticon.” He began the work with Cybersex, a look at virtual prostitution, and continued it with Crossings, a look at Arabia Peninsula from the air and the influence of human rights abuses there.
Datto feels the death of Harambe offers “a good moment to bring the focus back on whether zoos are actually necessary in today’s world and question what purpose they are serving as regards conservation and education of the general public,” he says.
In Captivecam, Datto has spent more than a year and “endless hours” documenting the animals in their enclosures, as well as their interactions with human beings. He feels the live cams are reminiscent of government surveillance techniques used on human beings.
“Some of the situations and enclosures that I observed are surreal in their essence,” he wrote. “Some of the panda enclosures look like human prison cells.”
He adds: “Looking long enough and through the particular vantage points of cameras inside the inner chambers of the animals physically inaccessible to the public, one can observe various psychological manifestations of captivity including repetitive behavior, stress, and boredom.”
Although he includes a wide range of animals in the project, he says giant pandas feature prominently in the series because “the panda industrial complex is one of the biggest and is at the forefront of key questions pertaining to conservation.”
He said a lot of the live cams seem to have been set up in order to generate revenue via sponsorship opportunities, money that might have been better spent elsewhere.
“Millions of dollars spent toward creating these enclosures would have been better used on conservation efforts in the natural habitats of these species,” he wrote.
Follow Datto on Instagram.