THE MODERN ARK by Vickie Constantine Croke

THE MODERN ARK

The History of Zoos: Past, Present, and Future
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Croke, a wildlife journalist for the Boston Globe, gets to the heart of our love-hate affair with zoos in this elegant, thoughtful study. Creatures of the wild strike primitive, visceral, and spiritual chords in many of us, even when viewed in a zoo setting: 120 million people in the US visited zoos last year. The way Croke sees it, as society increasingly distances itself from the natural world, zoos are one path back: ``What we take away from zoos in our heads is questionable . . . what we take away in our hearts is irrefutable.'' She is a fan of zoos, good zoos, and feels that they can ``carve out a niche that fits intelligently into the spectrum of people's experience.'' To get to the nub of the matter--what makes a good zoo?--she toured just about every decent-sized zoo in the US. Where had they gone right, where wrong? Was there space enough for the animals, were there opportunities for them to enrich themselves, were they allowed to let their hair down, to be natural? These are not simple questions, and Croke must dip into physiology and biochemistry and stereotypic-behavior theory (dealing with animals' behavior in confinement) to gain even a toehold on the answers. But this is also a general zoo history, with sections on ancient menageries (Queen Hatshepsut gathered hers in the Land of Punt); plenty of grisly stories of attacks and escapes; an overview of problems relating to collection, inbreeding, and triage; and the question of reintroducing animals to the wild. Zoos of the future may well be interactive marvels, suggests Croke, but they had better get involved in saving wild places, for that is ultimately where these creatures should be: ``Wild animals don't belong in cages,'' says the author, voicing the zoo-lover's ethical lament. Engagingly written, full of astute cultural critiques as viewed through the prism of zookeeping practices, and deeply respectful of animals. (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 4th, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-19712-X
Page count: 254pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997