Recently, I read Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French. This book about events at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo begins with the dilemma of too many elephants in a sanctuary in Africa destroying it by eating it. What to do when no other sanctuary can be found to take them? The at first reluctant decision is to sell them to two American zoos which involves flying them around the world to live their lives in captivity. Is a captive elephant better than a dead elephant? Is a captive elephant even an elephant at all? This particular issue perfectly illustrates the troubling broader problem of zoos.
That problem is nicely summed up by this quote from the book:
"Zoos argue that they are fighting for the conservation of the Earth, that they educate the public and provide refuge and support for vanishing species. And they are right. Animal-rights groups argue that zoos traffic in living creatures, exploiting them for financial gain and amusement. And they are right."
From this very promising beginning material, the book moves on to explore what happens to other animals at the zoo where four of the elephants were delivered. A couple of the zoo's most well known animals, a chimpanzee and a tiger, meet unfortunate deaths, one killed by cagemates and one shot after escaping through a door left open by a new zookeeper after many staff had quit because of deteriorating working conditions and morale at the zoo.
Unfortunately, the end of the book forgets about the larger issues and deteriorates into chronicling the downfall of the zoo's CEO. A paragraph recaps what humans are doing to the planet and other species, but for me it was too little too late to recapture the power of the opening pages of the book.
I took a walk around the zoo here yesterday, primarily because I wanted to see the wolves which were just put on exhibition. I discovered that foxes and a lynx had also been added since my last visit. Here's a look at some of the northern captives. I took a couple nice photos of a lion (not the mountain variety) also, but a lion in Duluth in January is too absurd to think about.