Author: Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
Title: Wild lives : a history of the people & animals of the Bronx Zoo
Publication Info: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2006.
This is a children’s book history of the Bronx Zoo, a place I visited since childhood and have always been fascinated about it’s background. The book focuses mostly on the early days when the zoo was designed by William Temple Hornaday. Hornaday was concerned with conservation, breeding animals, and creating naturalistic settings for the exhibits. In some areas he was successful, such as donating animals to the American Bison Society to repopulate the herds on the great plains, or opening the first veterinary hospital in a zoo in 1916 (which sadly came after many animals died in captivity). Natural habitats and breeding would come later (most notably with the opening of the African Plains in 1941) although the author makes a point of these developments being built on what was learned from studying the animals in the early days of the zoo. The book makes no mention of the darker moments in the zoos history such as the leadership of Madison Grant, a notorious racial eugenicist, or the time in 1906 when Ota Benga, a man of the Mbuti people of Congo, was put on display in the zoo.
The book also focuses on the efforts of the New York Zoological Society, later the Wildlife Conservation Society, in the area of field research. This originated with William Beebe, who traveled the world observing wildlife in nature, his discoveries informing how to design exhibits and care for animals at the zoo. Later the zoo would expand to work with wildlife parks and reserves on various continents both for research and conservation. Later chapters bring updates at the zoo itself up to the end of the 20th century. The book makes a good case for why zoos remain relevant and necessary in the 21st century.