Nature writer Benyus (Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, 1997, etc.) defends the value of zoos even though scarcely 10 percent meet the standard for accreditation by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.
“Though captive breeding is a number one priority at many zoos,” writes the author, “it is not always obvious to the casual visitor.” Zoos also play an important role in educating children about the need to protect and nurture wildlife. Benyus’ aim in this update (the book was originally published in 1998) is to guide young and old visitors in better understanding the behaviors of the animals on view. To this end, she provides snapshots of their behaviors in the wild, organized geographically and by species, and how this translates to the protected environment of a nature park—the proper conception of a well-run zoo. “If you haven’t been to a zoo in several years, you’re in for a wild surprise….[t]hey’ve sprung the cages and turned the animals loose in startling simulations of their home habitats,” she writes. In a properly administered zoo, solitary animals no longer exhibit stereotypical behavior. “Besides being more at home, the animals are also in better company,” writes Benyus. “No longer the lone representative of their species, they now romp in herds and pods, troops and bevies.” From African gorillas and lions to peacocks, North American wolves and eagles, Arctic polar bears and whales, the author covers the typical behaviors of different species, their feeding, locomotion, grooming, vocalizations, gestures and courtship rituals, social organization and raising of young.
Most of us will never go on a safari, but with Benyus’ guidance, supplemented with more than 200 charming illustrations, a visit to the zoo can be educational and provide thrills galore—and we can play an important role by observing that the animals are being properly treated.