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Go behind the scenes of an urban zoo

 

September 8, 2010

Zoo Story

Zoo Story - Life and Death in the Garden of Captives

By Thomas French

($24.99, Hyperion)

This book is for you if you've ever been to a zoo or wondered about wild animals. It is for animal lovers and for animal rights activists. "Zoo Story" is based in Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, at one time the fastest-growing and most controversial zoo in the country.

If an animal is being driven to extinction in its natural habitat, should it be moved to a safer environment? If it is killing off other species or even destroying its own source of food, should it be left alone? Is it better to leave it in the wild to possibly die of starvation or be killed, or for us to play "Noah" and remove it to encourage procreation in a safe environment? Who has the "correct" answer? Is there one?

Thomas French is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who brings us behind-the-scenes stories to give us the information to decide ... if we can or should decide these futures.

In the savannah, tourists talk about the "balance of nature." Natives know better: there is no balance because it is in a constant state of change. "Nature ... plays no favorites."

Elephants in Swaziland were being squeezed out of their once-vast roaming spaces by new infiltrations of humans and plantations. When they stripped the trees for food, they moved on to the plantations, where they were shot for their ivory tusks. It seemed a chance for survival to take some to other countries, to educate people about the animals in a place where they could live. Eleven elephants were transported to two zoos in the United States. During the long flight, the animals were sedated and personally cared for by handlers from the animal preserve in Africa, men who knew and respected them in the jungle and accompanied them to ensure their safe transition to their new habitat.

French did lengthy interviews with all of the key people in this book, along with spending time in the zoo and exhibits and with the animals. He also ventured into Swaziland and the forests of Panama to learn about other endangered species.

The author takes us behind the scenes at the zoo. We learn about animal feedings, preferences and personalities, and those of the humans close to them. There are the inner workings and politics, the "Codes," and the tenderness and attachment of the workers to their favorites.

He frequently likens humans to their counterparts in the animal world. He indulged himself in such observations at a fundraising party hosted by the zoo, relaying to the reader his newly-acquired insights into alpha instincts in males and preening habits in females.

There are extensive endnotes to satisfy the journalist's sense of proof of his findings. And we find out what happened at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo in this exceptional book for all readers.

You can find a copy of this book at your library or your local independent bookstore. Please support them so that they can be there for you the next time you need them. Comments or suggestions are welcome at mary.bookworks@gmail.com.

 

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