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Wild Lives: A History of People & Animals of the Bronx Zoo    by Kathleen W. Zoehfeld order for
Wild Lives
by Kathleen W. Zoehfeld
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

It is difficult to resist a close-up, face-in-your-camera-lens shot of a baby leopard on the front cover. Turning the page, you're struck by the deep brown eyes and grin of a young chimp. They are among the many engaging creatures who beckon visitors to the historic Bronx Zoo. Visiting animal habitats can be exhilarating, as I found when I visited the Zoo in the 1990s. It seemed that each wondrous creature spoke to my heart: 'See me in all my splendor, as I see that you care about my existence, and that centuries from now my species will still exist.'

Sidebar quotations add to the appeal of this admirable work, such as this by William Beebe: 'The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; ... but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again.' Along with Zoehfeld's text are images provided by The Wildlife Conversation Society who believe in 'saving wildlife and wild lands ... through careful science, international conservation, education, and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo ... WCS is committed to this work because we believe it essential to the integrity of life on Earth.'

Zoehfeld lovingly chronicles the historical moment in November 1899 when director William T. Hornaday 'flung open the wrought-iron gates of the Bronx Zoo for the first time ... as guests arrived in horse-drawn carriages'. Women in long skirts, fancy hats, men in dark suits and derby caps rushed to attend the opening ceremonies. The wonders present in the first days were buffalo, elk, and caribou, with alligator and python in the Reptile House. Hornaday 'envisioned a new kind of zoo' to change 'indifferent and destructive attitudes' toward wild animals, as he and others realized that cramped exhibition cages were pernicious. The city government agreed to provide a large parcel of public land.

There are more than two million visitors to the Bronx Zoo annually. Visitors patiently watch for the dwellers asleep in treetops, or lounging on the grassland - including wolf cubs, cheetahs, sea lions, elephant, rhinoceros, and prides of lions. In the 1940s Fairfield Osborn, then president of the NYZS, pointed to new patterns that needed to follow the old - 'Our gorillas don't receive enough affection. They're intelligent and sensitive and lonesome. We must see that the keepers embrace them more, treat them like human babies', was one of many of Osborn's foresights. Truth was spoken in noting 'That polar bear's unhappy', or that abundant hugs from keepers resulted in the Zoo's gorillas thriving.

Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld is to be praised for her meritorious Wild Lives, that introduces children to the beginnings of the Bronx Zoo, its constant efforts to improve, and constant vigil on behalf of the amazing animals who dwell there.

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