From Publishers Weekly
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist French goes behind the scenes at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo in this absorbing and balanced account that reveals extinction, conservation, and captivity issues in all their moral complexities and featuring a very memorable cast. The author introduces readers to Herman, the lovable species-confused chimpanzee who has reigned at Lowry Park for three decades; Enshalla, whose family history was like a Greek tragedy, and her mate Eric, Sumatran tigers whose attempts at mating captivate the zoo staff; Ladybug, the black bear who likes oranges and peanut butter; Lex Salisbury, the ambitious CEO who holds the fate of the zoo animals and humans in his hands; and the trainers who witness the circle of life and death among their charges. We are forced to reconsider our notions of freedom and captivity when presented with such scenarios as 11 partially sedated wild South African elephants being moved to U.S. zoos to escape slaughter at home. A thoughtful and moving but unsentimental portrait of life in captivity and a broad introduction to some of its most salient—and intractable—dilemmas. (July)
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French knows the Lowry Park Zoo story better than anyone else, and his writing on the subject is engaging and instructive, particularly when he describes the behind-the-scenes politics that determines what 175 million Americans see every year on their visits. French adroitly mixes the sordid details of Lowry Park with a "big-picture" approach, avoiding the finger-pointing and polemic that so often accompanies discussions of zoos. The most difficult thing about reading Zoo Story
is coming to terms with some hard truths about wildlife conservation--for example, are possible solutions worse than the problem? "All zoos, even the most enlightened," French points out, "are built upon an idea both beguiling and repellent--the notion that we seek out the wildness of the world and behold its beauty, but that we must first contain that wildness."