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Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives Hardcover – Bargain Price, July 6, 2010
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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
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."
Top customer reviews
In addition to my curiosity about the inner workings of a zoo, I was also drawn to this book because we visited Lowry Park Zoo several times, and I always enjoy reading about places I've been to in real life. I was able to picture many of the places he described--and remember watching the baby elephant whose conception and birth is described in the book.
This book tells many stories--including the rise and fall of the zoo's controversial CEO Lex Salisbury to the reign and tragic ends of the zoo's "king" and "queen" (Herman the Orangutan and Enshalla the Tiger). The book opens with the transport of a group of elephants from Swaziland, Africa to Florida. Using the acquisition and journey of the elephants to highlight some of the issues and controversies surrounding zoos, French highlights the reasons why so many of us are conflicted about zoos. He tells how the elephants are losing their native habitat through their own voracious appetites and why this perilous journey might be their best hope of survival, yet he contrasts this with the way the zoo markets the elephants and may not really have their best interests at heart. In addition, French's account of the death of a young Lowry Park zookeeper at the hands of a captive elephant gives the reader pause about whether keeping wild animals in a zoo is really the best decision for all involved.
The story that French is trying to tell is complex, and I think that both helps and hurts the book. On one hand, the reader gets to view the zoo from many different perspectives. We meet various keepers, the animals, and the zoo's management. We get a glimpse of how a modern zoo must balance financial health, conservation efforts, and the well-being of the animals. In the case of Lowry Park Zoo, we also get an insider's look at the controversy surrounding Lex Salisbury, who was both loved and reviled within the zoo. On the other hand, juggling so many different stories means that none of them get enough attention. I often found myself getting caught up in a particular story line and then being disappointed when I didn't get more depth or follow-up. French has a wealth of material, and I wished he had written a longer book. Too often, I felt like the individual stories were given short shrift.
Despite that, I found the book to be interesting and eye-opening. Although it did little to help me settle my own misgivings about zoos in general, the book provided me with lots of food for thought. If you're interested in learning more about zoos, I think this book does a good job highlighting their pros and cons. (And it would be a great Z book if you are doing the A to Z Title Challenge.) A word of caution though: If you are reading this book mostly because you are interested in animals, you might be disappointed. Although French takes the time to discuss various animals, he spends considerably more time on the various political machinations that affected the zoo during Salisbury's stewardship.