Feb 7, 2018

A Zoo for All Seasons

The Smithsonian Animal World
senior editor Russell Bourne

It starts with a narrative story- curiously, the only section of the entire book illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings, the rest has photographs. The opening chapter tells of efforts to breed an orangutan at the zoo, the decision keepers made to separate the orang infant from its mother when it developed an infection, and the anxious period spent trying to save its life with veterinary care that was rudimentary compared to technology of today. The rest of the book is more general in nature. Chapter subjects vary: a history of zoos in general, from menageries kept by royalty in the past to the beginnings of modern zoos, in particular the National Zoo, and its connection with the Smithsonian Institution. How the zoo manages its space and visitors, the balance between scientific inquiry and pleasing the public (whose entry fees contribute a lot to funding things), keeping the animals healthy, making enclosures more natural for them, managing breeding operations and gene pools between zoos. The role the zoo has in maintaining species populations- in particular a large breeding ranch it has in Virginia (not open to the public) and advancements that have been made there in breeding rare birds, ungulates and golden marmosets. Conservation, animal husbandry and scientific inquiry seem to be the main three points.

There's also a chapter in the back about studies in the field done by Smithsonian scientists on Asiatic elephants, red howler monkeys, tigers, chipmunks and the tenrec. There's mention of how every single animal that dies in a zoo is autopsied, and what zoo scientists learn from that. Discussion of how local wildlife that enters the zoo (piegons, rats, raccoons,domestic cats, etc) is managed- particularly because of diseases they might introduce to the exotics. Final two chapters highlight numerous other zoos in the country and around the world, pointing out significant advancements or special collections they each have.

I have another book called New Zoo published some ten years after this one, and it's about the very same zoo. I guess it's not surprising as I live relatively close to the National Zoo, that these two titles were among discard copies I picked up somewhere.

Rating: 3/5            192 pages, 1979


  1. I have mixed feelings about zoos but still think this sounds interesting.

  2. This sounds great! Really really interesting. I read a book about zoos a while back that taught me a bunch of interesting thing about like how species survival plans work and such, and I wish I could remember the title! It was good but I'd love to read something like this that kind of gets into how zoo policy works at real actual zoos.

  3. Is it on your blog? I'd be interested to read the one you are talking about, too!


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