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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 brilli 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 but 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.


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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 brilli 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 but 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.

30 review for Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I’ve always felt conflicted about zoos. On the one hand, I enjoy seeing the animals up close and personal. On the other hand, I always feel guilty. No matter how big or “friendly” their habitat, I still feel a bit melancholy when I see magnificent wild animals living their lives in such an unnatural way. Then I try to make myself feel better by telling myself that they might be better off in a zoo—safe from poachers and other dangers found in the wild. In short, like many others, I have a love/h I’ve always felt conflicted about zoos. On the one hand, I enjoy seeing the animals up close and personal. On the other hand, I always feel guilty. No matter how big or “friendly” their habitat, I still feel a bit melancholy when I see magnificent wild animals living their lives in such an unnatural way. Then I try to make myself feel better by telling myself that they might be better off in a zoo—safe from poachers and other dangers found in the wild. In short, like many others, I have a love/hate relationship with zoos. So when I saw journalist Thomas French’s book, Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, that purported to give an inside look at Tampas’ Lowry Park Zoo, I snapped it up immediately. 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.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brittany

    I found stacks and stacks of this book in a neglected corner during a Borders going-out-of-business sale. It was odd for me, because I hadn't heard of it at all. So I picked it up and took it home. (How could I not? It had elephants on the cover and promised to be a behind-the-scenes look at a zoo.) It was over and above anything I was expecting. It is, in fact, the first in-depth look at the personal life of zoos that I've been able to find. French, a journalist with no zoo ties, does an admira I found stacks and stacks of this book in a neglected corner during a Borders going-out-of-business sale. It was odd for me, because I hadn't heard of it at all. So I picked it up and took it home. (How could I not? It had elephants on the cover and promised to be a behind-the-scenes look at a zoo.) It was over and above anything I was expecting. It is, in fact, the first in-depth look at the personal life of zoos that I've been able to find. French, a journalist with no zoo ties, does an admirable job profiling, both the animals and humans who populate a zoo. He also aptly captures the contradictions inherent in a zoo, and the people who work there. There are no (good) zoo employees who do not feel at least a little skeptical about whether they're doing the "right" thing for the animals at times. French is able to capture the personalities and motivations that make zoos tick (or not). He tells fascinating stories about the individual animal personalities of the Tampa Lowry Park Zoo, and the controversies it endured around the turn of the 21st century, but he also touches on two of the most controversial and conspicuous issues zoos face today: Animal escapes (called Code Ones at Tampa) and free vs. protected contact for elephants. He chronicles Tatiana's Christmas day escape in 2006, and San Deigo Zoo's move from free to protected contact. He does an admirable job telling Tatiana's story, but he over-simplified the free vs. protected contact argument, and made the transition sound a lot simpler that it has been, though perhaps not simpler than it should have been. The telling of Tatiana's story sets up the climax of the book, which was compelling and difficult to read. (I don't know one zoo employee who has not had this nightmare. I have it repeatedly). French deftly used the incident as a microscope to look at the power dynamics of the Tampa Zoo. The rest of the book deals with the political fall of Lex Salisbury, the (now former) Tampa Lowry Park Zoo director. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It should be required reading for anyone who works in a zoo, and it'd be good for anyone who plans to visit (or have an opinion about) zoos. French's perceptive eye and acute mind were a perfect narrator for such a story.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I caught myself constantly wanting to shout "Yes! You sooo get it!" throughout this book. It manages to capture all of the ethical quandaries and essentially "doublethink" games keepers face every day when taking care of exotic animals in a zoo. It's a highly conflicted field and French does a wonderful job of summarizing it. I can even forgive his occasional digressions into utterly ludicrous flowery prose. On a personal note, Enshalla the tiger's story is one out of my nightmares. Literally. I I caught myself constantly wanting to shout "Yes! You sooo get it!" throughout this book. It manages to capture all of the ethical quandaries and essentially "doublethink" games keepers face every day when taking care of exotic animals in a zoo. It's a highly conflicted field and French does a wonderful job of summarizing it. I can even forgive his occasional digressions into utterly ludicrous flowery prose. On a personal note, Enshalla the tiger's story is one out of my nightmares. Literally. It was extremely hard to read. The overall story is one of how a zoo can be rebuilt from a disastrous state into a marvelous success. And how bad management can totally take a zoo back down from that marvelous success. The second half of the book is essentially "how to totally f-- up as a zoo CEO". I remember hearing about the scandals at Lowry Park a few years back, and I was excited to finally get a full account. I am truly impressed by French's handling of the whole book. I do love the stories of Herman and Enshalla and the African elephants. I wish he could have given more details when it came to the falling out with Brian French (and on the protected vs. free contact issue as a whole), but I assume he had good reason. My only objection to his calling out these stories specifically is that he falls into the exact same trap that is so often criticized in zoos -- he focused in on the big name species. You really can't get more charismatic than a chimp, a tiger, and an elephant. And while he made nods to the herps and other departments, they were, for the most part, a token gesture -- I suppose even a critical writer can't escape the lure of charismatic megafauna to sell a book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    carissa

    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 but tyrannical CEO known as El Diablo Blanco. Zoo Story crackles with issues of global urgency: the shadow of extinction, 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 but 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    I think most people are either for zoos or against them. I don't really like the idea of any animal being kept in captivity, but this book presented a rational argument for the need for zoos - one which didn't sugarcoat their dark histories and sad anecdotes. I was initially drawn to the book because it was written based on testimonies and experiences occurring at or revolving around Lowry Park Zoo in St. Petersburg, Florida. I'd been visiting that zoo ever since I was a little girl. French begi I think most people are either for zoos or against them. I don't really like the idea of any animal being kept in captivity, but this book presented a rational argument for the need for zoos - one which didn't sugarcoat their dark histories and sad anecdotes. I was initially drawn to the book because it was written based on testimonies and experiences occurring at or revolving around Lowry Park Zoo in St. Petersburg, Florida. I'd been visiting that zoo ever since I was a little girl. French begins his exploration into the zoo world with Lowry Park's groundbreaking acquisition of a group of elephants from Kenya. He presents the problems and resolutions from both an environmental standpoint (effects of overpopulation, conservational efforts) and an emotional bias (the wonder animals instill in humans, and the connections established). He introduces the reader to several famous residents at the zoo - an elephant, a bengal tiger, and an orangutan. Some of these animals' lives were saved, and some of them lived less-than-fulfilling lives behind bars. It's a true story with a real villain, as the financial underworld of the zoo industry is revealed in depth. To be honest, you don't really walk away from this book feeling one way or the other; you kind of just accept the sad reality that zoos are necessary evils. But despite that, it really is an enjoyable read, and one all animal lovers and wildlife advocates should read. It shines a new light on a very misunderstood industry.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    There are so many superlatives I can use to review this book. It's riveting, fascinating, heartbreaking, funny and a real page turner. It's the story of the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa Florida. It tells the story of the rise, fall and rise again of America's Number One Family Zoo and all the characters in it both human and animal. Everyone from the obsessive dictatorial CEO Lex Salisbury to Herman the King of the Chimpanzees to Enshala the Sumatran tiger whose keeper sprays Obsession around her grot There are so many superlatives I can use to review this book. It's riveting, fascinating, heartbreaking, funny and a real page turner. It's the story of the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa Florida. It tells the story of the rise, fall and rise again of America's Number One Family Zoo and all the characters in it both human and animal. Everyone from the obsessive dictatorial CEO Lex Salisbury to Herman the King of the Chimpanzees to Enshala the Sumatran tiger whose keeper sprays Obsession around her grotto. Enshala is beautiful and dangerous and rejects every suitor that the zoo brings in to hopefully mate with her. Herman is the alpha male chimpanzee who starts out with a family until he and his sister get too big and strong to live with this family and they are given to Lowry. Herman is one of the most long lived of the zoos animals. He has survived through some awful times when the zoo was a very horrible place to the present time where the animals are cared for with kindness and intelligence. Herman loves blondes and likes to see a bit of skin if he can. Makes for some interesting interactions with his female keepers. The beginning is about 4 elephants that are brought from Swaziland to Lowry. The elephants are destroying the trees and vegetation which is impacting other animals who need those plants to survive. There are too many elephants and they are facing a cull. Rather than kill them, the rangers decide to send 11 to the US. Four go to Lowry and 7 got to the San Diego Zoo. This sets off a huge battle with PETA and other animal rights groups, but Lex won't take no for an answer so eventually these 4 arrive which sets off a huge multimillion dollar expansion which eventually leads to a battle involving the city of Tampa and the state of Florida.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peacegal

    I am glad I listened to this challenging and thought-provoking audiobook. ZOO STORY is not simply about cute and clever exotic animals. Instead, it's an examination of the complex ethics, motivations, and responsibilities involved in animal captivity, through the trials and tribulations behind-the-scenes at one nationally-known Florida zoo. I'm an animal advocate, but I do not blindly follow what this-or-that group says. Instead, I strive to research the issues and form my own opinions. I do not I am glad I listened to this challenging and thought-provoking audiobook. ZOO STORY is not simply about cute and clever exotic animals. Instead, it's an examination of the complex ethics, motivations, and responsibilities involved in animal captivity, through the trials and tribulations behind-the-scenes at one nationally-known Florida zoo. I'm an animal advocate, but I do not blindly follow what this-or-that group says. Instead, I strive to research the issues and form my own opinions. I do not believe zoos are 100% bad (and I'm talking AZA zoos here, not roadside menageries). Nor do I believe zoos are 100% good. Indeed, even most zookeepers don't believe zoos are 100% good, as the book makes clear. All good zookeepers are plagued with crises of conscience--is this good, right, best for the animals?--and zoo visitors should be, too. Can zoos be good for animals? They can. Many zoos rehabilitate wild animals who have been orphaned or injured or serve as a permanent home for those animals too damaged to be released. The Lowry Park Zoo (the focus of this book) provides this service for manatees. With their large budgets, zoos can help animals that privately-funded small wildlife rehabs cannot. Zoos are also one of the very few popular institutions that depict animals (at least the ones being displayed) in a positive light and encourage people to love and make connections with them, and care about what is happening to them in the wild. In a time in which a minority of Americans will ever enter an animal shelter, and even fewer will visit an animal sanctuary that espouses an animal rights viewpoint, zoos are one of the very few forms of animal-based institutions that actually ask attendees to care about the animals. And of course, zoos can also help preserve those species who are being driven to extinction. ZOO STORY tells a fascinating and sad story about the rapid disappearance of the Panamanian golden frog, and the zoo's amphibian specialists' determination to propagate and restore this little creature. (However, this brings up some more ethical questions. I was rather distressed to hear about the artificial insemination of Ellie, an elephant at Lowry Park Zoo, because the males in her herd weren't old enough to mate. What if she didn't want a calf? Is it right to force motherhood on an animal just because she's an endangered species--something she knows nothing about?) At the same time, zoos also have a lot of problems. A major storyline is the rapid rise and fall of Lowry Park's charismatic and dictator-like director, who is so obsessed with growing his animal collection that corners get cut, valuable staff members are lost, and animals end up suffering or even dying as a result. It's easy for big zoos to take on a theme park-like mentality, in which the search for the next big thrill can overtake the notion that these are sentient beings we're talking about. While standards of care in zoos have improved with great speed--indeed, far more quickly than any other animal-based enterprise--there's still much work to be done. I've seen exhibits in which the animals appeared to be genuinely happy, mentally engaged, and at ease--and those in which the animals' boredom was manifesting itself in distressing ways--in the same zoo. The staff should be more open about what is being done to help animals in the latter segment. And of course, there are animals who are still kept in captivity who should not be. Whales and dolphins, the consensus seems to be, are not capable of living long or healthy lives in aquariums. Other animals are far too shy and simply not suited for life in the zoo environment. I'm sorry to say that a large segment of zoo visitors behave in an abysmal manner. Parents play on their phones while kids run around, scream, and pound on the glass. Are these kids learning about animals and conservation? Are the parents? ZOO STORY doesn't depict animal rights activists--at least those who opposed a transfer of a doomed African elephant herd into American zoos--in a very positive way. The narrator uses an unsympathetic whiny voice for activists' words, and the book attributes animal organizations with far more power than they actually have (a look at the commercial farming industry should put to rest that notion). I hoped the zoo guest who suggested a vegetarian diet to make an aggressive tiger more peaceful was just a Lowry Park urban legend, but I'm doubtful. Even animal lovers can be very dumb about animals at times. However, even if the individual activists don't come off well, many of their concerns are validated in this book. It was activist pressure that drove zoos away from the old concrete-steel-bars-and-circus-acts model of zoos to begin with. And many of the concerns about zoos are explained and amplified. So even if activists aren't always right, neither are the zoos. Zoos have changed a great deal over the past couple of generations. How will they change in the future? Ideally, they will expand their "sanctuary" role and focus most or all of their resources on helping individual animals who are injured or in danger. Maybe they will start taking more firm stances on issues of environment and conservation, and stop partnering with corporations that just want to "greenwash" their name brands and serving hamburgers in their snack shops. In this issue, there's a lot of gray where only some see black and white.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

    I somehow knew that this story would warm my heart. I have a real love for elephants because my mother collected elephants (not live!) for displaying in our house. So when I saw the cover and read the blurb, I thought maybe I would like it. I'm not huge on nonfiction but this nonfiction read more like fiction for me, so that made it more engaging. I also like history and historical fiction, but I wasn't so sure I'd like "Natural History" which is on the MPG for this book; however, I truly enjoye I somehow knew that this story would warm my heart. I have a real love for elephants because my mother collected elephants (not live!) for displaying in our house. So when I saw the cover and read the blurb, I thought maybe I would like it. I'm not huge on nonfiction but this nonfiction read more like fiction for me, so that made it more engaging. I also like history and historical fiction, but I wasn't so sure I'd like "Natural History" which is on the MPG for this book; however, I truly enjoyed learning about the various animals and their habits, personalities, and even their histories. It was quite fascinating. I enjoyed reading about all of the animals, but for me the elephants especially stood out and made the story of the animals' live a more engaging read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Preeti

    I picked up this book at the library as I do many of my books - randomly cruising the animal/conservation related shelves in the non-fiction section. As I was just about to start reading, my friend told me the author had appeared on The Colbert Report. So of course, I had to check that out. I was surprised to see that Colbert actually let him talk during the interview, which is unusual, but I think it may have been because the subject was not "political" per se. I absolutely enjoyed this book, as I picked up this book at the library as I do many of my books - randomly cruising the animal/conservation related shelves in the non-fiction section. As I was just about to start reading, my friend told me the author had appeared on The Colbert Report. So of course, I had to check that out. I was surprised to see that Colbert actually let him talk during the interview, which is unusual, but I think it may have been because the subject was not "political" per se. I absolutely enjoyed this book, as the 5-star rating implies. I felt that it was very well-written - highly nuanced and absolutely engrossing. I myself have a mixed view of zoos, I feel they are necessary but I'm slightly uncomfortable with the concept. I've visited several and even have ambitions to possibly work at one one day, but all of that is very pie-in-the-sky. It was very informative to read the story of the Lowry Park Zoo, in Tampa, FL. It was an inside view that I've never gotten to see/read before. I really liked how French tried to portray many sides of the story, not just in relation to this particular zoo, but to zoos in general. It showed that the issue of zoos is nowhere near black and white. There are so many issues to consider, so many things to take into account. Zoos are not going to go away anytime soon, so the best we can do is try to improve them and give the greatest importance to the lives of animals, as well as the greater issue of conservation. I'm walking away from this book with a lot of things to think about, with a sense of despair, but also of hope, as well as a big list of more books to read. (He includes a Notes section as well as a Bibliography with a ton of books and papers related to the topics in the book.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Interesting subject matter presented in a convoluted manner. Story lines would end abruptly and then pick up later in the middle of another tangent. Rather than build suspense or deepen our appreciation of a particular point, this jumbled writing style left the reader frustrated and trying to remember the finer details of previous chapters. The lack of flow hurt the story. Second, I think the book also suffered from too many themes: was this mostly about the displaced elephant pod; an inventory Interesting subject matter presented in a convoluted manner. Story lines would end abruptly and then pick up later in the middle of another tangent. Rather than build suspense or deepen our appreciation of a particular point, this jumbled writing style left the reader frustrated and trying to remember the finer details of previous chapters. The lack of flow hurt the story. Second, I think the book also suffered from too many themes: was this mostly about the displaced elephant pod; an inventory and analysis of animals and animal care at Lowry Zoo; an analysis of the rise and fall of a megalomaniac zoo director? It was difficult to focus or sympathize with any one story line. Third, the regular comparison of the chimp society in the zoo and the human "alpha" staff members and political gatherings was overdone and not particularly profound. And the rhetorical questioning of what the animals may be thinking or what a particular action says about humanity was not very convincing. Perhaps we anthropomorphise too much, perhaps too little. This book offered no real fodder for analysis in either direction. I did like the too brief tale of Herman and his first human caretaker. It was one of the more emotional moments in a story that could have been more effectively and engagingly told.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    Many people hold ambivalent feelings about zoos. Without them, most would never have the opportunity to see many of the beautiful and fascinating animals with whom we share the planet. Zoos also offer the best hope for the continued survival of threatened species whose habitats we’ve obliterated through our profligacy. 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 Many people hold ambivalent feelings about zoos. Without them, most would never have the opportunity to see many of the beautiful and fascinating animals with whom we share the planet. Zoos also offer the best hope for the continued survival of threatened species whose habitats we’ve obliterated through our profligacy. 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 Tampa Florida and their importation in 2003 of 4 African elephants (3 wild and 1 raised in captivity). There are ethical problems that arise when intelligent animals are taken from the wild and placed in an artificial environment. Every aspect of the animals lives from their feeding and care, to their social interactions and contact with other species (particularly with humans) is affected and changes the animals in ways that are poorly understood. French considers these ethical dilemmas in a manner that is both sensitive and thorough while at the same time spinning a compelling narrative that encompasses individual animals and the zookeepers that tend to them. I also found his descriptions of human behaviors in terms often used to describe animal interactions amusing.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I really enjoyed this book that was about Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. The author did an excellent job changing back and forth between the story of the animals and the story of the humans involved. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the book are when he compares the habits of the two. The look behind the cages at the world and lives of the zoo keepers was particularly interesting, but the best part of the book was the story of the rise and fall of Lex Salisbury, the zoo's CEO. As a Tampa I really enjoyed this book that was about Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. The author did an excellent job changing back and forth between the story of the animals and the story of the humans involved. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the book are when he compares the habits of the two. The look behind the cages at the world and lives of the zoo keepers was particularly interesting, but the best part of the book was the story of the rise and fall of Lex Salisbury, the zoo's CEO. As a Tampa Bay area resident, I distinctly remember both when Lowry Park Zoo was a horrible zoo to visit (small, concrete, iron-barred cages) and the political fallout of Salisbury's personal conflicts of interest with the zoo. Fortunately, he is no longer with the zoo and it continues to be a great place to visit (especially for families). Even if you aren't from the Tampa Bay area though, this is a fascinating look behind the scenes at a zoo over the course of a year.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kari

    Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Thomas French reported exhaustively on the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla., for this fascinating and beautifully written book. Beginning with the transport of elephants imported from a game park in Swaziland, the book explores the delicate balance between conserving endangered animals and exploiting them for profit. I really appreciate the end notes that let readers know exactly where he got his information. The opening of the book reads as though French were on the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Thomas French reported exhaustively on the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla., for this fascinating and beautifully written book. Beginning with the transport of elephants imported from a game park in Swaziland, the book explores the delicate balance between conserving endangered animals and exploiting them for profit. I really appreciate the end notes that let readers know exactly where he got his information. The opening of the book reads as though French were on the plane with the elephants. Consulting the end notes, I saw that his description was based on interviews with those who were there. A lot of the time however, French's reporting is first-hand. One of the blurbs on the cover of my paperback called Zoo Story a "fun read." I recommend it highly, but I wouldn't call it "fun." The plight of many of these captive animals is devastating.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bibliovoracious

    Through the story of one zoo, an examination of zoos: What do they mean? How have they evolved? Is there a place for zoos in our culture? Are they doing a good job? These are important questions these days, as in the news a gorilla has just been shot, a child fell into an enclosure and died - zoos across America are grappling with fluctuating purpose and strong opinions about what they do. The multilayered narrative is fascinating - wild Swazi elephants transported to America, one tough tiger who Through the story of one zoo, an examination of zoos: What do they mean? How have they evolved? Is there a place for zoos in our culture? Are they doing a good job? These are important questions these days, as in the news a gorilla has just been shot, a child fell into an enclosure and died - zoos across America are grappling with fluctuating purpose and strong opinions about what they do. The multilayered narrative is fascinating - wild Swazi elephants transported to America, one tough tiger who had enough, manatee surgery, bunny huggers, and a chimp who lives his entire life among people. Between the story lies the questions....

  15. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    This marvelous examination of the motivations and mandates behind the zoo industry raises all the expected questions and allows the reader to make their own judgements. Both sides are adequately represented, and the humanity, as well as the...animality (? take that as a parallel for the animal side) of the business is emotional and heartfelt. The acknowledgements thank Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi for showing the author the possibilties in imagining an inner life for animals. It is a st This marvelous examination of the motivations and mandates behind the zoo industry raises all the expected questions and allows the reader to make their own judgements. Both sides are adequately represented, and the humanity, as well as the...animality (? take that as a parallel for the animal side) of the business is emotional and heartfelt. The acknowledgements thank Yann Martel, the author of Life of Pi for showing the author the possibilties in imagining an inner life for animals. It is a stupendous job of journalism, done with sensitivity and acumen. Bravo!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Costen Warner

    This was an amazing book. I love animals. They bring joy, life and intrigue to our world. This book questions keeping animals in captivity and I still don't know if humans protecting animals in zoos is the best way to care for them. I do know my life has been enriched by my experiences at many zoos, museums and aquariums. I don't know if that is best for the animals and the planet. Everyone should read this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Vahue

    I have to be very judicious with this review and be very careful with what I have to say. I am closely involved with the zoo mentioned in the book and I felt that it did the institution a great disservice, even as I tried to maintain an objective perspective. The writing had a very slanted view against the zoo rather than the ambivalence associated with most nonfiction. I felt that the author wrote pompously and tried to imput his personal opinion rather than his professional. He is a journalist I have to be very judicious with this review and be very careful with what I have to say. I am closely involved with the zoo mentioned in the book and I felt that it did the institution a great disservice, even as I tried to maintain an objective perspective. The writing had a very slanted view against the zoo rather than the ambivalence associated with most nonfiction. I felt that the author wrote pompously and tried to imput his personal opinion rather than his professional. He is a journalist rather than a professional zookeeper. He does not have the knowledge to imbue animals with feelings and emotions to certain events. Most of his quotes seemed to be taken from snippets and observations not directly shared with the author. Each chapter seemed to be exaggerated and written like a fictional novel rather than a factual occurrence. I was not impressed with the writing and I rolled my eyes multiple times while reading. I can only merit the extra star due to the fast pace of the story and I could clearly picture the sounds of a zoo waking up in the morning. His depictions of the exhibits and more accurately, the staff, seemed extreme and did not offer an unbiased viewpoint. I would not classify this book as useful tool to view zoos because he is not a trained professional that understands the hard work needed to operate one. This muckraking did this institution a great disservice and made a smear campaign showcasing the awful events during the early 2000's. I don't appreciate the author making a book over multiple tragedies and losses simply to earn a profit. If you don't have the training and education to care for animals professionally, you shouldn't be writing a book about a subject you've only eavesdropped upon.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vicky Hunt

    Captivating Look at Animal Behavior A panoramic view of animal life from the wild to zoo life, Zoo Story begins in the tiny country of Swaziland, which recently had a name change to Eswatini. Many details are provided about the national parks and the operation of zoos. But, the animals themselves are the most fascinating part of the story. From elephants who bury their own dead, to transporting elephants by air, to great predator cats breeding and rituals; the reader gets a 'birds-eye view' of th Captivating Look at Animal Behavior A panoramic view of animal life from the wild to zoo life, Zoo Story begins in the tiny country of Swaziland, which recently had a name change to Eswatini. Many details are provided about the national parks and the operation of zoos. But, the animals themselves are the most fascinating part of the story. From elephants who bury their own dead, to transporting elephants by air, to great predator cats breeding and rituals; the reader gets a 'birds-eye view' of the animal kingdom in today's world. Not only is the story very realistic, but it looks at the lives of animals honestly from every angle in a non-political way. From stalking predators, to tool-wielding primates; I will never forget some of the mental images I will take away from this book. While the Audible narration of Zoo Story was great, I think it would have been nice to have a hardback copy for the photos, which I can not speak for here, since I haven't seen them. I enjoyed the narration by John Allen Nelson. I read this book for my stop in Eswatini on my Journey Around the World for 2019-2020. My next stop will be Mozambique, where I will be getting "a window on eternity" from a picturesquely illustrated hardback copy of A Window on Eternity: A Biologist's Walk Through Gorongosa National Park.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

    What it is: An elegantly written (though flowery at times) multi-character story about the life-cycles of a zoo and its inhabitants, both non-human and human. Who should read it: People who have difficulty with the concept of zoos, people who think zoos are terrible, and people who think zoos are great. This will get all three groups to think, and that is a testament to its mostly objective storytelling. Why I liked/disliked it: I struggled to get into this one because it was front-loaded: it started What it is: An elegantly written (though flowery at times) multi-character story about the life-cycles of a zoo and its inhabitants, both non-human and human. Who should read it: People who have difficulty with the concept of zoos, people who think zoos are terrible, and people who think zoos are great. This will get all three groups to think, and that is a testament to its mostly objective storytelling. Why I liked/disliked it: I struggled to get into this one because it was front-loaded: it started with action and excitement and a big emotional landmine for animal lovers like myself. Once I got past this, though, the book read beautifully. At times I found the writing a little self-indulgent, flowery, etc.- it seemed to romanticize at times. Overall, though, I found this really enjoyable, and educational, to read. Rating: 4 stars. I really liked this one, but its few flaws kept it firmly out of 'amazing' territory.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ginger

    4.5 stars. fascinating. I learned alot, was amused by the animal stories, and interested in the lives of the people surrounding the zoo. That says alot.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I have been thinking about how to write this review because I feel my background played a large part in my enjoyment of this book. I went to school for photography and journalism, married into the circus business for a short time and then ended up living in Tampa from 1996-1999. I purchased this book a while ago because Lowry Park Zoo was my go to place anytime I needed to escape, clear my head, or just want to be around the animals. I enjoyed the layout of the zoo. I loved that they rehabilitat I have been thinking about how to write this review because I feel my background played a large part in my enjoyment of this book. I went to school for photography and journalism, married into the circus business for a short time and then ended up living in Tampa from 1996-1999. I purchased this book a while ago because Lowry Park Zoo was my go to place anytime I needed to escape, clear my head, or just want to be around the animals. I enjoyed the layout of the zoo. I loved that they rehabilitated the manatees and I could sit in front of the chimp exhibit for the longest time, probably watching Herman, although I did not know it then. I recognize some of the names of keepers, good people who loved the animals in their care. With my history of working with animals, I can relate to having the extraordinary responsibility and gift of caring for and being around such magnificent creatures, all why questioning if this is really how it should be. I really appreciated that this was written by a journalist..this is very good journalism. Well researched, well written, objective and accurate accounts of events, sharing as many sides of the story as possible. There isn't fluff that makes you feel like what you were reading is embellished or a tampered with story. This is an interesting and informative read framing a space in time of the lives of the humans and the animals in their care and their daily survival and struggle. Animals/conservation/activism, it is a touchy and emotional topic. Whatever your opinion is of the matter, I think you would be captivated by the book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Such an interesting and nuanced book behind the scenes at Tampa's Lowry Park zoo! Thomas French understands the importance of zoos in keeping alive highly endangered species and introducing the public to the world out there, at the same time as the lives of the animals are clearly changed by their captivity. The book opens with 11 elephants on route from Swaziland to Florida and San Diego because the Swaziland park can no longer support the number of elephants there. PETA files several injunctio Such an interesting and nuanced book behind the scenes at Tampa's Lowry Park zoo! Thomas French understands the importance of zoos in keeping alive highly endangered species and introducing the public to the world out there, at the same time as the lives of the animals are clearly changed by their captivity. The book opens with 11 elephants on route from Swaziland to Florida and San Diego because the Swaziland park can no longer support the number of elephants there. PETA files several injunctions to prevent the transportation of the animals believing that death (the inevitable outcome of transferring the animals to other parks in Africa that license big game hunters - ugh - or slow starvation of too many elephants in the Swaziland park) would be better than captivity. I can't agree. I had no idea that poison frogs are no longer poisonous in a zoo because they don't eat the ants in their native environment that cause the poison. I'm a huge fan of non-fiction written by journalists and Zoo Story is an excellent example of that kind of book. It's full of interesting characters - Herman, a chimp that lived with a family for so long that he prefers blonde women to female chimpanzees (isn't that awful?!), Enshalla, a Sumatran tiger that has always lived in captivity and is aggressive with everybody and dies shockingly and unexpectedly, and a CEO that bullies his staff (did you know that new zookeepers earn about $7.50 an hour?) with his grand expansion plans.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I have a fascination with animals of all kinds, and I love zoos in a totally nerdy way. Granted, I of course suffer from the same ambivalence that most people do when I really examine it, and I think the author did a great job at expressing this feeling. He really didn't make any grand statement about zoos being evil, on the contrary he seemed just as torn as anyone is with the question of whether to hold an animal captive. The stories about the animals at the zoo were so interesting, and I absol I have a fascination with animals of all kinds, and I love zoos in a totally nerdy way. Granted, I of course suffer from the same ambivalence that most people do when I really examine it, and I think the author did a great job at expressing this feeling. He really didn't make any grand statement about zoos being evil, on the contrary he seemed just as torn as anyone is with the question of whether to hold an animal captive. The stories about the animals at the zoo were so interesting, and I absolutely love getting a behind the scenes look at what really goes on. I feel that I would've enjoyed the book a little more if it focused more on this aspect than on the Lex Salisbury storyline/controversy. My biggest complaint is that I felt that the author was a little heavy-handed when describing the humans involved in the story, and he went a little crazy with the animal behavior metaphors. He tended to paint the people with broad brush strokes, labeling the members of the zoo board as alpha primates, etc. I suppose he was trying to draw similarities between the way we tend to anthropomorphize animals and make sweeping generalizations about them, but it still just felt forced and a little mean-spirited at times, as if he were forsaking actual detail and explanation for just putting the players into well-defined categories. Overall though, a great read!

  24. 5 out of 5

    April Helms

    This book is a series of stories, more or less in chronological order, about the Lawry Park Zoo in Tampa, about its zoo keepers, its animal residents and more. French not only does a good job conveying the humanity of the animals in the zoo, but he captures the animal nature and "signals" humans make, showing we aren't as distant from the beasts as we may like to think. Readers will find out about the history of the likes of Enshalla and Herman, two of the more famous residents there, as well as This book is a series of stories, more or less in chronological order, about the Lawry Park Zoo in Tampa, about its zoo keepers, its animal residents and more. French not only does a good job conveying the humanity of the animals in the zoo, but he captures the animal nature and "signals" humans make, showing we aren't as distant from the beasts as we may like to think. Readers will find out about the history of the likes of Enshalla and Herman, two of the more famous residents there, as well as of the newer denizens -- a small herd of elephants, who made their way from a preserve in Swaziland to Tampa. There's a lot of humor in this book, such as the friendly feud between the zoo keepers in the herpetology area and those that work with the mammals. But there's a sadness, too, such as the baby manatees the staff can't save, and the frustration of the zoo staff with the administration. The book deals a pretty even hand with the varying perspectives, and was very eye-opening (for example, I knew elephants were intelligent, but not to the degree described; and I had no idea how destructive elephants can be).

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joella

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. When I first read this book, I was in 6th grade. (Mostly because my parents failed to realize the subjects the book touched.) However, I would NOT recommend this book to any sixth graders I know, as it is definitely an adult book. I would recommend being in 8th grade when you read this. I loved this book. I was fascinated with zoos when I read this, so that might've bumped it up in my standards, but it's a wonderful book. Thomas has an excellent narrative and captured my attention throughout the When I first read this book, I was in 6th grade. (Mostly because my parents failed to realize the subjects the book touched.) However, I would NOT recommend this book to any sixth graders I know, as it is definitely an adult book. I would recommend being in 8th grade when you read this. I loved this book. I was fascinated with zoos when I read this, so that might've bumped it up in my standards, but it's a wonderful book. Thomas has an excellent narrative and captured my attention throughout the book. I laughed, I cried, I furrowed my brow in confusion. His writing takes you into the world of Lowry Park Zoo, something I love about this book. This book is a work of nonfiction, so all the details of the book are real, which I particularly liked. It's a nice change of pace from the fiction I tend to read. One of my friends, whom I'll call Leia, absolutely love this book. Now Leia here is not into nonfiction. She's more of a Twilight-esque girl. So when s he returned it to me telling me it was one of the best books she'd read, the book impressed me again. So. If you haven't read it, go read it now! Or at least add it to your to-read list. This book is worth your time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I really enjoyed reading this book and how the author gives us a much broader look at all aspects of what a zoo can be. This book gives you an in depth look at an animal kingdom striving to adapt to living in confined areas rather than living the life the way Mother Nature intended. The author gives us a perspective of the benefits of keeping animals in a zoo, but also presents to us the sadness of seeing some wonderfully magnificent creatures being locked up. He writes about how the Lowry Zoo in I really enjoyed reading this book and how the author gives us a much broader look at all aspects of what a zoo can be. This book gives you an in depth look at an animal kingdom striving to adapt to living in confined areas rather than living the life the way Mother Nature intended. The author gives us a perspective of the benefits of keeping animals in a zoo, but also presents to us the sadness of seeing some wonderfully magnificent creatures being locked up. He writes about how the Lowry Zoo in Florida has taken in animals that were hurt or in distress, exotic animals that people no longer wanted as pets and many other animals that are endangered. He has put a lot of research into the workings of a zoo and allows the reader to understand some of the wonderful positive initiatives a zoo can do for the animals and the education of people. He also questions the moral and ethical issues about taking animals away from their natural habitat and locking them up.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Babs

    Would highly recommend this read to all homo sapiens who work and/or live in group situations. A human ethnography that sheds so much light on our behaviors-- from the CFM (come f*** me) heels (girls you are presenting posteriors like your simian cousins) to the posturing & chest pounding of alpha males. In addition to the clever juxtaposition of human and animal behaviors, the author retells the Shakespearean drama, and constant ethical conundrums faced by 21st c. zookeepers. This story all unf Would highly recommend this read to all homo sapiens who work and/or live in group situations. A human ethnography that sheds so much light on our behaviors-- from the CFM (come f*** me) heels (girls you are presenting posteriors like your simian cousins) to the posturing & chest pounding of alpha males. In addition to the clever juxtaposition of human and animal behaviors, the author retells the Shakespearean drama, and constant ethical conundrums faced by 21st c. zookeepers. This story all unfolded in my backyard, and played out for months as a soap opera in the local newspaper, and thus in retrospect the book is a fascinating and well-written summation of events. If you liked "Life of Pi," you will devour the Zoo Story in which "nature plays no favorites."

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bridget Bailey

    This is my first book by this author and I truly enjoyed it. I thought it was going to be a book more about specific elephants but it actually was a book about a specific zoo in Florida. It starts out about specific elephants and ends up weaving a great story about monkeys, tigers and other zoo animals. I really enjoyed the writers style of writing which gave great detail while also holding my interest regarding the animals and the zoo and the zoo employees. It was really interesting to see what This is my first book by this author and I truly enjoyed it. I thought it was going to be a book more about specific elephants but it actually was a book about a specific zoo in Florida. It starts out about specific elephants and ends up weaving a great story about monkeys, tigers and other zoo animals. I really enjoyed the writers style of writing which gave great detail while also holding my interest regarding the animals and the zoo and the zoo employees. It was really interesting to see what zoo employees deal with on a daily basis and give another perspective on humans keeping animals captive for our amusement. It gives both sides on the subject so you don't feel like the book is biased in any way. I would totally recommend this book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    This is one of the best tales I have read in a long time. Halfway through I found myself telling the stories of elephants and chimps to anyone who would listen. Thomas Frank appears to be a phenomenal journalist who tells it like it is. If you ever wondered what it was like to try and rebuild a zoo, this is the book for you. I always thought it would be an awesome job to work at a zoo, but his in depth coverage would definitely make me think twice.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mueller

    An engaging read about the inner lives of several species kept at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. French delves into the animals' psyches, making comparisons to their human keepers. This work also details the brouhaha surrounding the downfall of the Zoo's long-time CEO, Lex Salisbury.

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