Buried Inside These Woods Lies The Eerie Remains Of A Human Zoo

Buried deep in a secluded, wooded area of France lies a very dark secret. Shrouded behind weeds and overgrown vegetation resides the crumbling remains of a human zoo that existed over a hundred years ago. It is like being inside a real-life episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror.

human zoo by Seph Lawless

human zoo Paris 1907

In 1907, a public human zoo exhibition, called Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, which is translated into Garden of Tropical Agronomy, was created to promote French colonialism. The human zoo consisted of six villages that were constructed to represent Madagascar, Sudan, India, Morocco, Congo, and Tunisia. The villages were built to mimic the life and culture of the original habitats, so rare, exotic plant-life as well as people were imported to fill the exhibition, including its houses and structures. From May to October of its opening year, the human zoo boasted over 1 million visitors.

Seph Lawless Human Zoo

This human zoo is not just a stain on France’s history, but it is also a stain on the soul of humanity. Surprisingly, other human zoo exhibitions existed in Berlin and London, but these zoos have long been demolished in a rather successful attempt to sweep their shameful past under the rug. However, France’s human zoo’s slowly decaying skeletal remains struggle to survive Mother Nature’s fury. Today, this hauntingly beautiful embarrassment is barely recognizable beneath the overgrown vegetation, vines, and weeds.

Human Zoo Seph Lawless

Walking through the now abandoned site was a surreal experience. It was difficult not to lose complete faith in humanity. Several of the old exhibits were falling apart, but they still had the subtle nuances of something more sinister, such as the rusted iron bars across the windows and the shattered greenhouses that were once used to sustain the zoo. I also found a series of broken statues hidden in the brush, seemingly frozen in time.

human zoo statue

I approached the old entrance to the human zoo, which consisted of a large Asian-inspired wooden structure millions of people had passed through for the opportunity to gawk at the nameless faces people kept neatly on display who were treated more like species than human beings. The old entrance was like a guard hiding a secret. As I walked underneath it, gazing up at the ghost of the terrifying gatekeeper, chips of the faded red paint hit my face.

human zoo entrancehuman zoo in 1907

A dark secret filled with a chilling history that will make your blood run cold exists here. An obscure history that reminds us how fragile humanity is and just how frightening mankind can be.

My images are a poignant reminder of what mankind is capable of, especially in these trying times where we are increasingly becoming more sharply divided by race.

During my YouTube video of this experience I emotionally broke down several times being overwhelmed by it all. As a freelance journalist I’ve been hired to document very serious things over the years from natural disasters to life altering environmental catastrophes. That being said this was among the hardest projects I’ve documented.