Z is for Zoo

Books involving animals are nothing new – especially if those animals can talk or otherwise communicate with humans (as those in Dr. Doolittle’s menagerie or Charlotte’s Web). But, books about zoos – the ways in which animals of differing species interact with humans in a more realistic manner – are a little more rare, in both fiction and nonfiction. Recently, a number of books about zoos has brought them to the forefront, offering reasons for their existence as well as showing a look behind the scenes. If you can’t make it to a fabulous zoo this summer, give one of the following books a try.

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FICTION

The Anteater of Death: A Gunn Zoo Mystery – Betty Webb

  • When Lucy, a pregnant giant anteater from Belize, is blamed for killing the man found dead in her pen, California zookeeper Teddy Bentley races against time to find the real culprit before Lucy is shipped to another zoo, but her investigation is undermined by another murder, a threatened eviction, a father on the lam, and a socialite mother out to destroy her romance with Sheriff Joe Rejas. Next in series: The Llama of Death and The Koala of Death.

Hannah’s Dream – Diane Hammond

  • Having devotedly cared for a lone elephant at a dilapidated zoo for more than forty years, Samson hopes to be able to retire when he hires promising assistant Neva, who forces Samson to acknowledge that the elephant also needs the company of her own kind.

The Life of Pi – Yann Martel

  • Possessing encyclopedia-like intelligence, unusual zookeeper’s son Pi Patel sets sail for America, but when the ship sinks, he escapes on a life boat and is lost at sea with a dwindling number of animals until only he and a hungry Bengal tiger remain.

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise – Julia Stuart

  • When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen by foreign dignitaries, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, a bearded pig goes missing, giraffes are stolen, the komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives, and canaries suffer fainting fits. As he attempts to cope with this four-legged invasion and his marriage continues to crumble, Balthazar must confront the secret he has been harbouring about his son’s death if he wants to save his marriage, and his sanity.

Zero at the Bone – Mary Willis Walker

  • A mysterious and miraculous correspondence from her long-lost zookeeper father may be the last hope for Katherine Driscoll to save her dog kennel and her pet golden retriever from being auctioned by the bank.

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NONFICTION

Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo – Lawrence Anthony

  • Traces the shared efforts of American soldiers, Iraqi staffpeople, conservationists, and ordinary citizens to safeguard the lives of the animals at the Baghdad Zoo who survived the outbreak of the Iraq war, an endeavor marked by hair-raising efforts to save a pride of lions, close a black-market zoo, and rescue Saddam’s Arabian horses.

Life at the Zoo: Behind the Scenes with the Animal Doctors – Philip T. Robinson

  • Shares the experiences of a veteran veterinarian amongst the animals of the nation’s zoos, examining the evolution and development of animal exhibits and animal care.

The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes: And Other Surprising True Stories of Zoo Vets and Their Patients – edited by Lucy H. Spelman and Ted Y. Mashima

  • A collection of real-life stories journeys inside the world of zoo veterinarians, who recount their experiences with exotic zoo animals, from raising an orphaned baby beluga whale to helping an anorexic eel regain its appetite.

Sailing with Noah: Stories from the World of Zoos – Jeffrey P. Bonner

  • An intensely personal, behind-the-scenes look at modern zoos, written in a lively, accessible style. Through a variety of true stories, some funny, some sad, occurring in different cities and on different continents, Bonner describes the changing role of zoos and argues that conservation is the shared responsibility of all mankind.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever – Benjamin Mee

  • Tells the true story of how Benjamin Mee attempts to refurbish a run-down zoo in Dartmoor, England, and discovers, through a tragic loss, the healing power of animals and the resolve to move forward and turn the zoo into a thriving success.

Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West – Eric Baratay

  • Looks at the history and changing nature of zoos in Europe and North America.

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives – Thomas French

  • Discusses a behind-the-scenes account of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, including the stories of the individual animals kept there, the politics behind the zoo’s administration, and the balance of wildlife conservation and capitalism.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story – Diane Ackerman

  • Documents the true story of Warsaw Zoo keepers and resistance activists Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who in the aftermath of Germany’s invasion of Poland saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish citizens by smuggling them into empty cages and their home villa.

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