Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French
Welcome to the savage and surprising world of Zoo Story, an unprecedented account of the secret life of a zoo and its inhabitants, both animal and human. Based on six years of research, the book follows a handful of unforgettable characters at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo: an alpha chimp with a weakness for blondes, a ferocious tiger who revels in Obsession perfume, and a brilliant by tyrannical CEO known as El Diablo Blanco.
Zoo Story crackles with issues of global urgency: the shadow of extinction, humanity's role in the destruction or survival of other species. More than anything else, though, it's a dramatic and moving true story of seduction and betrayal, exile and loss, and the limits of freedom on an overcrowded planet - all framed inside one zoo reinventing itself for the twenty-first century.
Thomas French, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, chronicles the action with vivid power: Wild elephants soaring above the Atlantic on their way to captivity. Predators circling each other in a lethal mating dance. Primates plotting the overthrow of their king. The sweeping narrative takes the reader from the African savannah to the forests of Panama and deep into the inner workings of a place some describe as a sanctuary and others condemn as a prison. All of it comes to life in the book's four-legged characters. Even animal lovers will be startled by the emotional charge of these creatures' histories, which read as though they were co-written by Dickens and Darwin.
Zoo Story shows us how these remarkable individuals live, how some die, and what their experiences reveal about the human desire to both exalt and control nature.
I've always felt conflicted about zoos, a love-hate relationship if you will. I feel they are necessary, but I'm still uncomfortable with the concept. And I honestly think most people feel that way. Without zoos, most would never have the opportunity to see many of the beautiful and fascinating animals we share this world with. Zoos also offer the best hope for the continued survival of threatened species whose habitats we have taken away or ruined. Yet there is an unease that comes with holding wild animals in captivity.
In Zoo Story, Thomas French examines these complex and often contradictory issues at the Lowry Park Zoo in Florida. There are ethical problems that arise when intelligent animals are taken from the wild and placed in an artificial environment. French considers these ethical dilemmas in a thorough but sensitive manner. He definitely shows that the issues of zoos is nowhere near black and white. He presents the problems and solutions from both the environmental standpoint and the emotional angle. It's definitely a highly conflicting field and French does a wonderful job of summarizing it.
French covers several different animal stories throughout the book, and I loved all of them but I felt like the individual stories were too short :). I would get caught up in a particular story and then be disappointed when I didn't get more depth or a follow-up. Many of those individual stories could have been their own books!
I did find the book to be interesting and eye-opening. I'm walking away from this book with a lot of things to think about, as well as a big list of more books to read (check out the Notes and Bibliography sections!). I definitely recommend this book :).
Check out the other books I've reviewed:
Dog is My Co-Pilot
When Elephants Weep
Scent of the Missing
Tell Me Where It Hurts
Little Boy Blue
Pawprints of Katrina
Hit By a Flying Wolf
What the Dog Knows
A Small Furry Prayer
The Dogs of Babel