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Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review: "Zoo Story--Life in the Garden of Captives"

Zoo Story, by Thomas French, is a journalist's history of six years at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. While I can fault French for overuse of trite expressions such as "alpha males" (referring to humans), this is an excellent book for anyone interested in zoos. He starts with wild African elephants transported to the US, rather than being shot to reduce over population, and uses that to explore what zoos have to offer animals and their visitors.

The book traces the rise and fall of Lowry Park Zoo from a back-water institution to a star attraction, and the subsequent fall from grace of the man who engineered its transformation. French has the good sense and journalist skills to talk to multiple layers of staff, keepers as well as management. He interweaves stories of individual animals and humans. Best of all, he tackles the real issues that zoos face, including the eternal conflicts among funding, animal welfare, and conservation. Animals get sick and die, animals escape and are shot, employees come and go, a zoo's reputation rises and falls.

French avoids the happy-talk of cute stories that most books by zoo professionals rely on and avoids as well the sentimentality and ignorance that assert that all animals in zoos are suffering and would be better off in the wild. He tells a great story with great characters.

Recommended for anyone interested in zoos or in our relationship with animals.

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