Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, Thomas French is filled with wonderful stories about the lifes and deaths of animals in the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. We get a little time with the herpetologists and the snakes, and the vanishing Panamanian Golden Frog, but mostly the mammals hold our attention. We get stories of hope about manatees and elephants, but the memorable stories are about downfalls.
There’s Herman the chimp, first raised by humans. His lifelong fixation on human women may have kept him from seeing through the schemes of a female chimp. I loved Enshalla, the beautiful and bitchy Siberian tigress. There’s some funny moments when they bring her an inexperienced suitor and moments of hope for her, which makes her end seem even more pointless and unnecessary. And finally the CEO of the zoo himself, Lex Salisbury, brought down by his ambitions, both for the zoo and for himself. Not to mention the hijinks of a pack of monkeys.
The theme woven through all these stories is the morality of keeping animals captive in zoos, especially highly intelligent social animals like elephants and chimpanzees. We hear numerous tales of ingenuity among elephants, as well as orangutans and monkeys. For the chimps we hear more about their social dynamics. The book is troubled by the idea that humans are taking away animals’ freedom, but argues that well-managed zoos are the most moral choice we have to save them in this world.