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Zoo Story
Cover of Zoo Story
Zoo Story
Life in the Garden of Captives
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"This story, told by a master teller of such things, does more than take you inside the cages, fences, and walls of a zoo. It takes you inside the human heart, and an elephant's, and a primate's, and on and on. Tom French did in this book what he always does. He took real life and wrote it down for us, with eloquence and feeling and aching detail."
—Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author

"An insightful and detailed look at the complex life of a zoo and its denizens, both animal and human."
—Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi and Beatrice and Virgil

Welcome to the savage and surprising world of Zoo Story, an unprecedented account of the secret life of a zoo and its inhabitants. 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.

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. 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.

"This story, told by a master teller of such things, does more than take you inside the cages, fences, and walls of a zoo. It takes you inside the human heart, and an elephant's, and a primate's, and on and on. Tom French did in this book what he always does. He took real life and wrote it down for us, with eloquence and feeling and aching detail."
—Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author

"An insightful and detailed look at the complex life of a zoo and its denizens, both animal and human."
—Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi and Beatrice and Virgil

Welcome to the savage and surprising world of Zoo Story, an unprecedented account of the secret life of a zoo and its inhabitants. 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.

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. 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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About the Author-
  • Thomas French has been a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times for the past 27 year. He is the author of two books and won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for Angels & Demons, a seven-part series detailing the the murders of Jo, Michelle and Christe Rogers and the eventual capture of the murderer, Oba Chandler.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 26, 2010
    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.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from April 15, 2010
    An in-depth look behind the gates of an American zoo.

    Former St. Petersburg Times Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter French (Journalism/Indiana Univ.) gained unusual access to zoo personnel to research this vivid account of the hidden workings of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo during a tumultuous six-year period. Dwarfed by Busch Gardens and Disney's Animal Kingdom, Lowry was headed by CEO Lex Salisbury, an ambitious visionary with grandiose expansion plans. In the first of many sharply rendered scenes, French opens with the remarkable air-lifting of 11 wild elephants from Africa to the United States, where four of the awesome creatures served as the foundation for Lowry's planned five-acre"Safari Africa" area. The author describes animal-rights groups' vehement protests to the uprooting of the elephants from their Swaziland game reserve and the legitimate concerns of many specialists that American zoos are not properly equipped to care for the animals. Nonetheless, the elephants—immensely popular with zoo-goers—were certain to boost attendance and revenue at Lowry. French explores the clash at Lowry and other zoos between a mission to conserve animals and a desire to entertain people. The author recounts aspects of life at the city-owned facility: the deaths of its stellar residents, a beautiful tiger and a playful chimp; staff drills in how to return escaped animals to exhibits; a black-tie fundraising gala; and the growing turnover among dedicated zookeepers, who feel overworked and underpaid while Lowry officials pursue increasingly glitzy plans, including a 258-acre game park. In 2008, the mass escape of 15 monkeys from the site of the planned game park prompted a city audit of the relationship between the nonprofit zoo and the for-profit game park that eventually led to Salisbury's forced resignation amid charges of conflict of interest. Based on articles that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times, the book captures the fascination humans have with animals, and vice versa, and raises questions about the purpose and management of zoos.

    A well-constructed, colorful read for animal lovers.

    (COPYRIGHT (2010) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from June 1, 2010
    Pulitzer Prize-winning "St. Petersburg Times" journalist French delivers a knockout background look at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Drawing on his six years of in-depth reporting, he chronicles the rise of Lowry Park from one of the worst zoos in the country to one of the best. The story begins in August 2003 when 11 elephants are loaded on a plane in South Africa for a lengthy transatlantic flight; four of the pachyderms will be delivered to the Florida zoo. The brainchild of then-director Lex Salisbury, this years-in-the-making feature exhibit seemed impossible at times and was highly controversial. It was designed to bring in needed revenue, raise attendance, and focus public attention on the total reimagining of Lowry Park. French takes us back to earlier times, when the zoo was notorious for its poor design and animal care. Later, the zoo's notoriety centered on internal controversies ranging from personnel issues and morale to legitimate claims of conflicts of interest and mismanagement of funds. VERDICT This behind-the-scenes look will both entertain and enlighten animal lovers. It is a story that needs to be told, and French does it superbly.Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI

    Copyright 2010 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Life in the Garden of Captives
Thomas French
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