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Inside Out Cage

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Is there such thing as a good cage? Happy gorillas, deft landscape architects, and neurologists show us that there just might be. We go back to the late 1970s to relive the moment when zoos began to change. Literally, the moment, that the modern zoo was born, as embodied by a few tentative steps of a gorilla named Kiki. That story told by zoo director David Hancocks, architect Grant Jones, and gorilla keeper Violet Sunde. Then we'll hear about work done by neuroscientists Elizabeth Gould at Princeton and Fernando Nottebohm at Rockefeller who are looking into the brain to see the effects of living in a cage.

Also check out:

Marina Belozerskaya's book The Medici Giraffe


Elizabeth Gould, David Hancocks, Grant Jones, Fernando Nottebohm and Violet Sunde

Comments [32]


I LIKE NUTS!!!!!!!

Feb. 24 2016 11:11 AM


Feb. 23 2016 04:16 PM
aokushinami from arizona

cool the best thing in the whole world btch.....

Feb. 23 2016 04:15 PM
Fenky from AZ


Feb. 23 2016 04:14 PM
su reh from Arizona


Feb. 23 2016 04:12 PM
Taw reh from rtgehjwkl


Feb. 23 2016 04:05 PM
sheikh kamara from phoenix

hi ismale,ernie,edwin,abel and class

Feb. 23 2016 12:31 PM

this is a very educational podcast that makes you feel better

Feb. 23 2016 12:25 PM

This piece talks about how the brains of animals in sterile "cages" are less "bushy" (fewer branched neurons) than the brains of animals in more "natural" environments with more sensory inputs and opportunities to interact with the environment around them. Well, DUH! Do you really need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows?

More to the point, and curiously not mentioned in this piece, is how analogous zoo cages are to the "cages" humans are kept in when they are imprisoned. What do you think happens to the brains/minds of humans who are kept in the rather sterile cages we call prisons? Especially, what happens to the brains/minds of prisoners who are caged in solitary confinement? We are concerned about the well being of the wild animals we capture and put on public display; yet our concern for the welfare of other humans is [also] sorely lacking.

Are we "civilized?" Not even close.

Sep. 20 2015 03:50 PM
matt from texas

I've lived a non normal life, sitting in a Walmart parking lot writing this, in a "normal" world. I am a man who would never hurt any living thing. I will sacrifice my being to only hope that man hurries up and destroys this earth to the point its all over. Maybe if a single organism lives on it would be a non human being. But if nothing lives that is OK too, as long as humans end, due to their ignorance, I will sacrifice myself as long as this just ends.

Jun. 07 2014 06:06 PM
A. Lopez from Philadelphia

Thank you for such a great piece. So relevant to human behavior and the effects of stress on generations of people. Just to clarify, the hosts were not referring to the gorillas as monkeys, and the gorillas were not euthanized to have their brains examined. They were referring to Elizabeth Gould's studies on marmoset monkeys at Princeton. The marmoset's brains were sliced and examined in the name of science. Perhaps a less invasive way of study is on the horizon.

Mar. 21 2014 01:43 AM

Found this story interesting in itself, but even more-so for the correlation to humans and how our environments affect us. I'd never support a circus, but I have to give Zoos a pass (at least the good ones) because you can't appreciate what you cannot see or interact with.

So if a relatively small percentage of animals must sacrifice a free and open existence in their natural habitat for the sake of preservation of those that are the wild, then I can't argue with that.

Mar. 16 2014 03:55 PM
Jeri Penland from Vail, CO

Usually listen to NPR driving to and from work. This was one story I wish I did not tune in to. I didn't catch the whole story, but heard enough to make me cry. the ending of the story when the reporter says she looks under the circus tent and see a cage with a tiger/lion in it and this poor animal is "yelling"...reporter says, "have you ever heard a lion yell?" the cage is only big enough for him to barely turnaround in. The sounds coming from that lion, killed me. So so to work and had to redo my makeup. China may be the worst when it comes to the treatment of animals...isn't there something WE can do??? If I was the reporter, I couldn't walk away from this story w/o trying to get this lion some help...horrible way for this animal to live...

Mar. 15 2014 06:59 PM
JoefromAllover from Allover

Using the misleading euphemism "looked into their brains" (several times) is dishonest, bad journalism and especially frustrating in supposed science reporting. The whole point of science is to find the truth. If the animals' brains were autopsied, say so. We can take it. If expensive imaging was used that did not require killing the test animals, then say so. In a world in which people are becoming more and more separated from reality, and more and more easily deceived by self-serving politicians, please try to report the whole story truthfully, no matter what the topic is.

Aug. 18 2013 01:03 AM
Mary from Denver

This is one of my favorite Radiolab broadcasts ever. Even though we are talking about animals in this story, humans need enriched environments and honest, natural stimulation (relationships, opportunities to solve problems, GOOD food!) to thrive as well. We all know this, of course, but seeing this analogy definitely pulls on the heartstrings in a way that Feed the Children commercials don't.

Feb. 10 2013 07:58 PM

All I could think about during the report on brain research was all the workers in cubes day after day my cube now is an "office." Without a window. And business magazines fret about how difficult innovation is. Duh.

Sep. 10 2012 01:49 PM
Lou from New Rochelle

My first Radiolab podcast I listened to and it was WONDERFUL except for one thing....and it's a big one. I wasn't sure who was calling the Gorillas monkeys - and I REALLY hope it wasn't the scientists - but Gorillas are apes, not monkeys. Don't worry, I'm still listening.

Aug. 09 2012 06:21 PM
ST from Puget Sound

One of the most interesting and compelling stories I've heard on KUOW. Well done.

Jun. 05 2012 06:45 PM
acer from northern California

I found "Zoo" overall extraordinary radio and, having heard it at least three times, I felt compelled to let you know how much your knowledge and creativity are appreciated. Between Radiolab, This American Life, and random special radio shows, I feel I'm experiencing the golden-est age of radio. Keep up the wonderful work.

Oct. 29 2011 11:14 PM

Rena--I think that was *1878*.

Oct. 20 2011 04:02 PM

I quite enjoyed this. Made me cry, actually.

Feb. 25 2011 10:57 PM

"Walking in the Zoo" coined the word "zoo" in 1978? Hmm...better check those facts again. Simon & Garfunkel's hit "At the Zoo" was on a 1968 record.

Dec. 09 2010 10:51 AM

the only reason im listening to this is because i have to do a project...worst project of my life!!! :p

Nov. 16 2009 09:42 AM

yellow fluff is gross..even though it has nothing to do with zoos

Nov. 16 2009 09:41 AM

i love making comments there fun

Nov. 16 2009 09:41 AM


Nov. 16 2009 09:38 AM
Sarah from New York

They did not necessarily kill the animals to see what is happening with their brains. Most probably they did the same they would do with humans to find out what is going on with their brain, which does not involve autopsy.

Jul. 06 2007 12:34 PM
Maggie Rufo from Novato, CA

It seems a no-brainer to me that an enriched enviroment benefits animals in captivity, but it is fascintating to learn of its evolution. One gripe I have is that when the story talks about looking at the brains of the animals it is said in such sanitzed terms. I assume that in order to learn what they did about the changes in the animal's brains they killed them. I feel that should be stated: We killed these animals and examined their brains. Own it. To me, that is completely unacceptable. Instead of slaughtering animals they could have simply observed them in their environments for a period of time and their behaviors would have told them what they needed to know in terms of whether the animals were benefitting.

Jul. 02 2007 07:09 PM
Hiram Jackson from Davis, CA

I remember going to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX in the early 1970's, in which a number of animals were housed on little islands near the river, a very natural looking setting, and zoo visitors would walk around on piers/boardwalks built over the water. To me this remains the most amazing breakthrough in zoos that I saw personally, pre-dating Seattle, perhaps.

Jun. 29 2007 08:01 PM
AnimlLovR from Seattle, WA

It was amazing how the reporter could take science and twist it to his point of view. Statements were made that had no support from evidence. Before the twentieth century mankind only brutalized animals? Where do you get such an idea? There were plenty of people that abused animals, but there were also many people that cared for both wild and domestic animals. One person states primate brains showed 20 to 40% improvement with a better environment. The second says “Forty percent!” No, not forty percent! He said 20 to 40%! That is a big difference!

Jun. 23 2007 03:51 PM

"Cage" has such a negative connotation.
I think there are good enclosures to use in order to protect endangered animals. Similar to humans, i think some animals fare a great deal better than others in the wild, whereas some do not.

Jun. 13 2007 04:51 PM
RadioSputnik from Minneapolis

A very interesting and amazing show, as usual. The point of a 'good' environment for the gorillas creating more brain growth in them did not following with or compare to any studies on 'good' environment for humans. Are we to not infer this? What does this say about us?

Jun. 08 2007 10:05 PM

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