Zoo Story by Thomas French
He got me again with the start of his book: “Eleven elephants. One plane. Hurtling together across the sky.”
Zoo Story, Life in the Garden of Captives, a nonfiction story that used the narrative devices of a novel, explores the issues of conservation of wild animals through the arrival of the elephants at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida, and the stories of other key players human and animal at the zoo.
Although the elephants provide a framework for the book, the most-compelling arcs of Zoo Story include the female Sumatran tiger Enshalla, who is running out of time to breed, the aging chimpanzee alpha Herman, and Lex Salisbury, the zoo’s CEO whose ambition transforms the zoo into a destination but ultimately proves to be his own downfall.
Poor training and inadequate staffing led to Enshalla’s escape and subsequent death with a bullet from Salisbury’s gun.
Herman, an unusual diplomat among chimpanzees, was the victim of a grab for power among two chimps who formed an alliance against him.
Salisbury’s downfall began when monkeys escaped from his own property, resulting in the public becoming aware of both problems behind the scenes his conflicts of interest between his personal business and the zoo he was running.
I could not put Zoo Story down because French is one of those writers and journalists who -- to paraphrase Tom Stoppard -- can put the words in the right order and nudge the world a little.
This book is a must-read for anyone who loves wild animals and wants to explore the issues associated with conservation. French does not provide answers but offers a framework for thought and debate.