Monday, September 13, 2010

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives


I am just going to be upfront about the fact that I am not really much of an animal lover. I grew up on a farm and we always had a dog, some cats, and a few other critters from time to time- sheep, goats - and no matter how much time I have spent around animals, I am not totally comfortable with them. Over the years I have gotten better, and after having owned a St. Bernard for several years, I hardly even think twice about getting out of a car at someone's house while their dog is baring its teeth at me. However, animals seem to know that I am not comfortable with them, and therefore seek me out, rubbing up against me, jumping on me, and inevitably reinforcing my discomfort with their unpredictability. I am not sure exactly what attracted me to Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French, a book about wild animals and zoo life, specifically at Lowry Park Zoo. Yet I found this book fascinating.


Zoo Story begins with the events in 2003 where eleven elephants were flown to the United States to begin their lives in captivity. While this may seem cruel, Zoo Life goes on to explain the problem with elephant overpopulation in Africa and the potential fate that may have befallen the elephants had a home not been found for them. Zoo Story continues to check in from time to time with the elephants and their life in the United States.

Herman, a chimpanzee, was donated to the zoo by his adopted human family. As the alpha male in his group, Herman's life at the zoo was really the third phase in his life. He had lost his chimpanzee family, then his adopted family had given him to the zoo when they no longer were able to care for him. His human family visited him often and he continued to know them and become upset each time they left him, showing to all the bond that existed between Herman and the people he cared about. Herman is also interesting in that he never showed much interest in female chimpanzees. He reserved his affection for attractive blond women, not relating much to his chimp background.

Enshala a female tiger at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is another memorable character, a true queen, who is able to dominate males and is truly a huntress. Lex Salisbury, the CEO of Lowry Park is responsible for the zoo's rise in popularity and status, yet events force a close inspection of the zoo and its safety, leaving Lex to ponder some of the decisions he has made.

Zoo Story deals with issues of conservation, whether animals suffer while living in captivity, the condition of zoos, the treatment of animals by underpaid staff, safety for staff from wild animals, and the remarkable animals that live in zoos.

Zoo Story is for anyone, animal lover or not, who is amazed by the complex and beautiful creatures that God created and the world they live in.

1 comment:

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

I'm not an animal lover either, but find myself attracted to books like this. I saw this reviewed in People and immediately added it to my Goodreads list.

A similar book that I loved: Babylon's Ark -- the story of the Baghdad Zoo -- really an amazing story.

Thanks for the review.