Find your next favorite book

Become a member today and read free for 30 days
Life at the Zoo: Behind the Scenes with the Animal Doctors

Life at the Zoo: Behind the Scenes with the Animal Doctors

Read preview

Life at the Zoo: Behind the Scenes with the Animal Doctors

439 pages
4 hours
Nov 5, 2004


Please Do Not Annoy, torment, pester, plague, molest, worry, badger, harry, persecute, irk, bullyrag, vex, disquiet, grate, beset, bother, tease, nettle, tantalize or ruffle the Animals.sign at zoo

Since the early days of traveling menageries and staged attractions that included animal acts, balloon ascents, and pyrotechnic displays, zoos have come a long way. The Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes in Paris, founded in 1793, didn’t offer its great apes lessons in parenting or perform dental surgery on leopards. Certainly the introduction of veterinary care in the nineteenth centuryand its gradual integration into the twentiethhas had much to do with this. Today, we expect more of zoos as animal welfare concerns have escalated along with steady advances in science, medicine, and technology. Life at the Zoo is an eminent zoo veterinarian’s personal account of the challenges presented by the evolution of zoos and the expectations of their visitors. Based on fifteen years of work at the world-famous San Diego Zoo, this charming book reveals the hazards and rewards of running a modern zoo.

Zoos exist outside of the "natural" order in which the worlds of humans and myriad exotic animals would rarely, if ever, collide. But this unlikely encounter is precisely why today’s zoos remain the sites of much humor, confusion, and, occasionally, danger. This book abounds with insights on wildlife (foulmouthed parrots, gum-chewing chimps, stinky flamingoes), human behavior (the fierce competition for zookeeper jobs, the well-worn shtick of tour guides), and the casualtiesboth animal and humanof ignorance and carelessness. Phillip Robinson shows how animal exhibits are developed and how illnesses are detected and describes the perils of working around dangerous creatures. From escaping the affections of a leopard that thought he was a lap cat to training a gorilla to hold her newborn baby gently (instead of scrubbing the floor with it) and from operating on an anesthetized elephant ("I had the insecure sensation of working under a large dump truck with a wobbly support jack") to figuring out why a zoo’s polar bears were turning green in color, Life at the Zoo tells irresistible stories about zoo animals and zoo people.
Nov 5, 2004

About the author

Related to Life at the Zoo

Related Books
Related Articles

Book Preview

Life at the Zoo - Phillip T. Robinson







Phillip T. Robinson


Columbia University Press

Publishers Since 1893

New York   Chichester, West Sussex

Copyright © 2004 Phillip T. Robinson, DVM

All rights reserved

E-ISBN 978-0-231-50719-6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Robinson, Phillip T.

Life at the zoo: behind the scenes with the animal doctors / Phillip T. Robinson. p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 10 0–231–13248–4 (cloth : alk. paper)

ISBN 13 978-0-231-13248-0 (cloth : alk.paper)

ISBN 10 0-231-13249-2 (pbk. : alk.paper)

ISBN 13 978-0-231-13249-7 (pbk. : alk.paper)

1. Zoos. I. Title.

QL76.R64 2004



A Columbia University Press E-book.

CUP would be pleased to hear about your reading experience with this e-book at



Zoogoing is one of America’s favorite pastimes. In fact, more Americans are reported to visit zoos and aquariums annually than attend all major professional sporting events combined, with present numbers approaching 140 million. Worldwide attendance at zoos and aquariums is estimated at 600 million people. The motives of zoogoers range from simple curiosity and amusement to educational and spiritual growth. Americans are fascinated with animals. This is clearly reflected in our annual expenditure of billions of dollars to purchase pets, supplies, and animal medical care. Cats, dogs, birds, ferrets, lizards, snakes, and tortoises have become common household companions for people, causing a huge growth in the pet industry worldwide. Television programs involving animals are at an all-time high, representing one of the most popular segments of the communications and television entertainment industry.

Perhaps no area of veterinary science is as intimidating or demands as much versatility as the practice of zoo animal medicine. At times it requires a taste for the kinds of body slams, physical and mental, that might be found elsewhere only in the World Wrestling Federation. After all, zoos are made up of both animals and people—and people usually bring the most uncertainty to the running of a zoo.

Quagga in London Zoo, 1870

The evolution of zoos is ongoing, at times painful, and fraught with some lingering anachronisms involving purpose and ethics. Along with the public’s growing awareness of environmental degradation and species extinctions, the expectations of zoos have risen steeply. In addition, animal welfare concerns have placed zoos under the public microscope, questioning the care and conditions of animals under their stewardship. Responding to these influences, the zoo profession has undergone a steady transformation over the past thirty years, changing many of its values, priorities, and programs.

Given the global urgency to protect wildlife and wild places, some people look with optimism upon the capabilities of the new zoological gardens to help provide security for the survival of nature. The quagga, a now-extinct relative of the South African plains zebras, epitomizes a dwindling population of creatures that escaped the grasp of modern civilization. In 1873 the last, nameless, individual died in captivity at the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam, Holland. While the collective capacity of zoos and aquariums to offset the steady losses of animal species in the wild is far too small for the global problem at hand, zoos’ contributions to conservation biology are significant, and growing. Zoos have enormous potential to educate the public about environmental conservation and are collaborating in the field and the laboratory to help address problems of animal extinctions.

My purpose for writing this book is to share some hard-earned insights into the dynamics of caring for and conserving wild animals in captivity, as well as to consider a few broader implications for how we view nature and animals in our society. Truthfully, when I left zoo work I never had an exit interview, and, in part, this book fulfills that exercise. This book will not tell you how to run a zoo, but it may give you a better idea of what to be pleased or perplexed about when you visit one in the future. It is written from my personal perspective as a staff veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo, a university research veterinarian, a wildlife biologist, and a nature lover. The experiences described are mostly my own, but the insights and knowledge therein have been honed by my fortunate association with many talented, dedicated professionals throughout my zoo career. I have filled in some of the blanks with supplementary research about zoos, which becomes hard to attribute in detail without citing sources like an academic treatise. Comedian Michael Wright put it this way: To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

This book recounts some of the thinking and thoughts that go through a zoo veterinarian’s mind when visiting animal patients in a zoo. My focus, as zoo medicine should be, is more on keeping animals healthy than on the technology of treating preventable conditions. In sharing my experiences and ideas about zoo people and zoo animals, I have struggled to balance the inclusion of personal opinions and the cataloging of esoteric facts and diseases; I am not always sure which prevailed.

Most of us in the zoo-doctor profession believe that it takes a quirky combination of science, art, and good fortune to practice successfully. My own experiences corroborate just that—especially the quirky parts. Through their dedication and perseverance, zoo veterinarians have advanced the knowledge of animal keeping, health, reproduction, and conservation, as well as the humane well-being of wild animals in captivity. In doing so they have fundamentally altered the course of zoos, bringing them along—sometimes kicking and screaming—into this new millennium.

It may be the blend of art, science, and pragmatism of zoo medical practice that makes it a unique and rewarding career, but it is the romantic fantasy of working in a zoo that somehow captures everyone’s imagination, including mine.

Family, friends, mentors, and associates have all helped me over the years on my zoo and conservation journey, and, thereby, in the preparation of this book. I am sincerely grateful to them all. My lively, loving mother, Marge Robinson, has always encouraged me to pursue whatever occupations or projects inspire me, but she never anticipated that she would end up referring to me as the monkey doctor. Several individuals in particular have actively encouraged, tolerated, and assisted me in refining my efforts to articulate my thoughts on the written page, especially Katherine and Shane Robinson, Dr. Rollin Baker, L. James Binder, Donn Stone, and Dr. Duane Ullrey. Marvin L. Jones provided helpful comments on the final draft. I also have been fortunate to benefit from the skills of my helpful editors at Columbia University Press.

As a veterinarian, I have often been joined in my efforts to improve the lives of zoo animals by the generous collaboration of zoo directors, curators, keepers, biologists, physicians, researchers, and architects. While only a few of them have been mentioned by name, many of them have made significant contributions to the field of zoological medicine and deserve the public’s gratitude and admiration.


In every generation there are restless souls who cannot be made to fit the common mold. A few of these are valuable in keeping their communities and professions in a ferment by their constant challenge to the existing order of man’s thoughts and actions.

—Memorial to Dr. Richard C. Cabot (1868–1939), the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust

Iopened up a cardboard box that had been taped shut and tucked away in a storage closet. When you move on to a new position, it is easier to set up housekeeping in your next office from scratch than to salvage aging supplies from your old desk. After a while, most of the objects in a desk become so invisible to the consciousness that one unthinkingly pushes familiar things aside while hunting through drawers to find an item that you know is in there somewhere. I fumbled past a stack of old business cards, a little metric ruler, a favorite calculator to convert ounces to milligrams, and a broken ostrich egg that could be shaped into an interesting tie tack some day—if they should ever return to fashion. I wondered where that nifty paper wheel gadget was from the horsemeat company that could be used to calculate the pregnancy due date of anything from an aardvark to a squirrel. Struggling to make sense of the forensic remains of my own zoo career in this box of junk, I also wondered whether, if a volcanic eruption smothered my house in ash, an archaeologist in the next millennium could figure out what I had done for a living, or would simply write me off as an eccentric pack rat.

A small cupful of paper clips looked like a mini-museum collection in itself; their variety reminded me of the curious displays of Barbed Wires of the Old West seen hanging on walls in country restaurants and southwestern tourist traps. These little fasteners had been detached from letters sent to me over the years from all over the world. Wide boxy types (Dutch, I think), funky colored plastic clips, vinyl-coated ones, a circular model, and some foldable, silver-foil discs originating from a private animal collector in Switzerland. The least pretentious ones of the lot were thoroughly rusted, attesting to their humid equatorial origins. I doubt that any cheaper paper clips existed; these were from Nigeria, where recycling has been practiced since time immemorial.

Comatose pens clogged with ossified ink filled an old pencil box, and the only one that still worked was a lonely Bic ballpoint—a stark contrast to the Nigerian model of quality control. I rediscovered the old fine-point Rapidograph pen that I had used to mark labels with indelible ink for a collection of small-animal museum specimens during my graduate field research days in Africa. In the bottom of the box languished a few unused paper museum tags with strings still attached—their unemployment bore witness to the spared lives of several obscure tropical rodents, whose less fortunate relatives now resided within white steel cases at the Michigan State University Natural History Museum, mothballed into perpetuity.

Next, I spied a rubber leg and a head from a small desktop model of a horse—a heartfelt gift from a graduate of Beijing University veterinary school. The rest of the horse, mounted in a standing position on a lacquered wood base, had strayed off somewhere else. Little red dots on its body labeled with Chinese script identified the useful acupuncture points to remedy lameness, colic, and equine liver ailments. I remain impressed that the horse has merited centuries of neurological research.

Finally, digging into a manila file folder, I extracted a long-forgotten letter that I received while I was the director of veterinary services at the San Diego Zoo. It was addressed to Chief Veterinary Doctor, Zoo Hospital. The undulating penmanship detailed a most peculiar and dangerous medical condition that the writer’s doctors were too incompetent to properly diagnose. The patient was confident, however, that it could easily be remedied if I would personally intervene on his behalf. He pleaded, Doctor, I have a live rattlesnake inside my stomach and without assistance from a serpent expert like you, these people are sure to kill me when they try to take it out! The return address was: Psychiatric Unit, Veterans Administration Hospital, Salt Lake City, Utah. The archaeologists are going to have their work cut out for them. But first, let me start toward the beginning.

As I made my way down the tree-covered lane toward the San Diego Zoo hospital for the very first time, I came upon the peculiar spectacle of two medieval-costumed swordsmen engaged in a heated battle near the hospital’s front steps. They briefly emerged from their Shakespearean characters, shifted to the roadside to let me pass, and resumed their bloodless encounter. Strewn around the perimeter of this cul-desac were fragments of a stage set for the Old Globe Theatre’s production of Hamlet. Moving past the actors and through the tall iron gates, I entered the equally surreal world of wild and exotic animals at the San Diego Zoo.

Just a few short weeks before, clutching my freshly inscribed veterinary diploma, I rushed home to pack after June graduation ceremonies at Michigan State University. With all my worldly goods secured in a horse trailer, minus the horse, I hooked it to my car and headed for California. After climbing over the Rockies and gazing into the Grand Canyon, I angled southwest across the Sonoran Desert through a blur of creosote bush and ocotillo. With the car’s temperature gauge in the red zone and the heater on high—my last-ditch effort to keep the coolant from boiling over—I impatiently switchbacked up the grade from the desert floor and entered the coastal mountains of eastern San Diego County. Little did I know that this fifteen-month internship would take me fifteen years to complete.

Earlier in the year, I had received the welcome news that I had been selected as the new veterinary medical intern at the San Diego Zoo. It was pure serendipity that I had ever learned of this opportunity to begin with, since it was a new program—the only zoo medicine internship in the world. My zoology academic advisor, Dr. Rollin Baker, director of the MSU Natural History Museum and a colleague of the zoo’s curator of mammals, had learned of this opening in correspondence. I applied immediately.

My longstanding goal was to work in wildlife conservation research in Africa, a career for which I had learned Swahili and completed BS and MS degrees in wildlife biology. I had no occasion to use my Swahili-language training on the opposite side of the continent, where I spent most of a year doing field research in the Republic of Liberia, a destination for freed American slaves in the nineteenth century. There I trekked through rainforests with native hunters and lived in remote villages while studying the habits of the pygmy hippopotamus for the World Wildlife Fund. I made recommendations for its conservation in the wild. Thirty-five years later, I am still attempting to implement them.

I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which hosted a small municipal zoo that I rarely visited. The only zoo of any real size was near Detroit on the opposite side of the state. I had always been put off a little by what I had seen and read about zoos, with their closely confined animals and circus-like atmospheres. After returning from Africa I combined my wildlife biology interests with veterinary medicine and was accepted into veterinary school at Michigan State. I expected that San Diego would be but a brief educational detour on the way to other places.

As a student, I had several zoo experiences, but nothing vaguely resembling those awaiting me in southern California. In veterinary school, I went on rounds with an MSU faculty member to the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan. The most memorable medical cases involved problems with lice on donkeys at the zoo’s farm exhibit and roundworm parasites in their bobcats—but at least that was a start. In the winter of my senior year in veterinary school, I ventured to Chicago to work with the staff at the Lincoln Park Zoo. There I encountered a whole new level of zoo medicine. I began on the first morning with a previously arranged meeting with the zoo’s director, Dr. Lester Fisher, at the baby animal nursery, where the zoo’s longtime veterinarian and administrator had stopped by to check on his charges en route to his office across the park’s grounds. Well-spoken and well-dressed in a smart suit and tie, he carried himself as if he were the mayor of Chicago, and he probably would have made a splendid one at that.

In the morning, Dr. Fisher worked as a zoo veterinarian, then shifted to the role of chief administrator and afternoon host of a local radio program about zoo animals. He often ended the day at fundraisers and meetings with civic leaders and politicians. Today he listened to the heartbeats of a baby tiger, checked the rectal temperature of an infant chimpanzee with a cold, and chatted in a fatherly manner with the nursery staff about the magical little creatures in their care. Several zoo visitors stood outside in the cool, misty drizzle, straining at the window in hopes of getting a mere glimpse into the exotic little world inside. I couldn’t help but beam internally because I was on the more interesting side of the glass.

Dr. Fisher thoroughly enjoyed his limited, but continuing, hands-on contact with the animals. Dr. Erich Maschgan, however, saw most of the cases that surfaced on a daily basis, dividing his time between his own private pet practice in Chicago and the zoo. We visited his patients in the lion house, monkey house, reptile house, and various behind-the-scenes locations on the zoo grounds. I was awed by the unassuming, competent manner with which he evaluated and treated animals that showed up on the sick list. A monkey had been in a tussle, and its ear was split by a bite. After a dose of an anesthetic, he scrubbed the ear clean and neatly trimmed away a hopelessly dangling piece of skin and cartilage, returning the animal to a holding cage for follow-up antibiotics to be administered by a keeper. I didn’t realize it then, but I would see many monkey injuries in the coming years, the results of squabbles over food, females, sex, and resting space.

Dr. Maschgan was a kindly, modest man who genuinely liked animals. He had warm relationships with the animal care staff, many of whom had been doing this unusual work for years in the heart of Chicago, serving a zoo that had been open to the public since the 1870s. I wondered if every medical case in a zoo veterinarian’s career was different, since no two hours were alike during my entire visit there. It was a mystifying place, in the sense that living bits of animal nature from all over the globe had been assembled into a synthetic jungle. They carried on with their immigrant lives on foreign soil, through hot Chicago summers and icy winters, entirely dependent upon humans for their health and well-being.

As I watched the large carnivores and apes, I speculated on how heavy the cage hardware was and if these contraptions would really hold a powerful animal if it became excited or vexed. I examined the widths of the moats required to contain dangerous animals and the precautions that employees took when they came close to them. Who really knew whether a Jim Thorpe, Mark Spitz, or Michael Jordan of the animal kingdom might defeat barriers that were designed for just-average animals? An impala antelope in the wild can clear an obstacle eight feet high and forty feet wide, but zoo enclosures half as large are meant to contain the same animal in captivity.

Studying the padlocks, I imagined their crumbling inside from age and corrosion and the cage doors falling off one day, liberating their feral inhabitants. In fact, in the years to come, several cage locks did fall apart in my hands. As with an aging airplane, how do you know when to replace this stuff? In the interest of safety, zoos often adopt a two-lock design on the most dangerous doors, just as aviation mechanical systems provide for engineering redundancy. Such things are learned by good and bad experiences that have become part of the practical lore of zookeeping, learned the hard way by animal escapes, lumps, bumps, bruises—and a few plane crashes along the way. Yet, whereas the planes had operation and service manuals, no books existed then on how to run a zoo.

During my zoo career I would meet countless veterinarians, doctors, dentists, nurses, and other professionals in my attempts to diagnose and treat problems in zoo animals. In comparing and contrasting our professions, I usually asked the physicians to consider the following scenario: Your patient has a badly broken leg. It attacks you when you try to approach, refuses to tell you anything about its injury, resists all of your efforts to examine, x-ray, and diagnose the problem, requires you to forcibly sedate it for surgery, tries its best to tear off the cast that you put on their fractured limb after the surgery, and, finally, when awake, attempts to flee from the hospital, threatening the life of anyone who comes near. This is the nature of medical practice in the zoo. In some ways, I suppose it is like specializing in providing medical care to demented maximum-security prisoners.

Because of the scope and novelty of their work, zoo veterinarians have the pervasive sense of never having quite enough medical or surgical expertise to tend to every possible injury or disease in their practice. Indeed, it is their everyday job to discover and assemble solutions for these uncertainties on a case-by-case basis. A zoo veterinarian must be part epidemiologist, surgeon, ethologist, ecologist, detective, and shaman. Coping with these complexities is the fundamental conundrum that pricks the imagination and enthusiasm of individuals who make it their career.

No matter how humble the zoo’s staff or facilities, veterinarians must provide the 911 responses to all emergencies and be prepared to cope with any catastrophe that arises. They are the paramedics, anesthesiologists, trauma surgeons, and midwives. And when these efforts fail, they become the priests who administer last rites.

San Diego Zoo Hospital and Biological Research Station, c. 1930


An Eclectic Orientation

The San Diego Zoo originated as a commonplace menagerie—a by-product of a small, temporary animal display that had been assembled for the 1915–16 Panama-California Exposition in the city’s spacious Balboa Park. The exposition commemorated the impending prospects for international commerce brought about by the newly completed Panama Canal. Its inaugural event was a grand midnight concert attended by fifty thousand people on New Year’s Eve in 1915, and its centerpiece attraction was the world’s largest musical instrument, a massive pipe organ, which had been installed in the new outdoor Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Newly caged but zooless animals listened nearby in the darkness to a musical performance that aptly began with Haydn’s The Creation.

A makeshift arrangement of enclosures had been erected to exhibit this hastily gathered hodgepodge of wolves, bears, leopards, and bison. They were displayed like a circus sideshow for the amusement of the visitors. The exposition ran for two years instead of the scheduled one. In 1916, as it began winding down, the idea of installing these animals, and more, into a permanent facility in Balboa Park took root with the birth of the nonprofit Zoological Society of San Diego. Dr. Harry Wegeforth, a local physician, scanned the dry, brushy hillsides and canyons in Balboa Park and envisioned animals from all over the globe living in a tropical garden. As a teenager Wegeforth had had a passion for animals and circuses and slipped away from San Diego for a time to become a tightwire walker with the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Wegeforth’s initial zoo efforts drew upon his connections in city government and the business community to expropriate building materials and solicit donations and sponsors for animal acquisitions. He funded his passion a nickel and a dime at a time. Almost single-handedly, Wegeforth organized a plan to create his notion of a world-class zoo, and in 1921 the city of San Diego was finally persuaded to provide the permanent property for the zoo in the park. Thanks to innate wisdom, or, more likely, thanks to the protective leadership Dr. Harry wielded, city politicians seldom succeeded in meddling significantly with the zoo’s management or budget. This remains the case even today.

On the first day of my veterinary internship, I anxiously sought out the Zoo Hospital and Biological Research Station, a classic piece of 1920s Spanish revival–style architecture, built through the philanthropy of Ellen Browning Scripps, an heir to the Scripps newspaper fortune. Balboa Park had evolved into a grassy fantasyland of exotic eucalyptus, jacaranda, orchid, frangipani, and fig trees sprinkled around botanical gardens, reflecting ponds, fountains, and museums with quaint Spanish facades. The zoo hospital was completed in 1927—a simple, picturesque two-story building cloistered away on the zoo’s perimeter, now adjacent to the backstage entrance to San Diego’s Old Globe Shakespeare Theatre. Dr. Harry’s oversized head, cast into a commemorative bronze, rested on a pedestal next to the staircase inside the front entry hall. Later, as I learned more about him, I couldn’t help but think that it was inconsiderate to locate him so far from the hustle and bustle of the zoo entrance, where he would be pleased beyond his imagination at the income-producing queues at the ticket booths.

Roaming the zoo grounds on my own for the first time, I encountered weathered cement relics of generations of exhibits for the big cats, bears, and great apes. These antiquated structures were moldering reminders of the zoo’s rustic beginnings. There was a surprising absence of actual buildings of any consequence, aside from the restaurant, reptile house, gift shop, and administration offices. Scattered here and there, tucked inconspicuously behind exhibits, were various keeper shacks—small, makeshift workstations where animal foods were prepared and daily diaries logged. The animals I saw, all strangers to me then, would gradually take on names and personalities as I tended to their medical dilemmas in the coming years.

Unlike most other American city zoos in the early 1970s, the San Diego Zoo had become an enviable tourist destination. From a sleepy US Navy town in the 1940s and ’50s, San Diego was fast becoming a major, cosmopolitan city. The zoo’s annual visitor attendance was approaching three million, making it the envy of other mostly struggling urban zoos. San Diego was exuberantly proud of its zoo—the city’s official sacred cow. Its politically provincial and plutocratic Board of Trustees fought to keep it safe from the harm of bureaucratic encroachments and ran the organization like an elite club of civic leaders and socialites. The membership of the Zoological Society has always been regarded primarily as a fundraising base rather than as a democratic, intellectual association. Indeed, for most of the society’s history, it has been traditional to pass board positions to close friends, relatives, and other patriotic members of the San Diego establishment, with minimal public fanfare and without extramural solicitations of candidates.

The animal collection in the zoo numbered in the thousands when I first arrived on the scene in 1972. The days of postage stamp–style zoo animal collections were still alive, but numbered. The zoo’s sizeable budget and the inclinations of its management had brought together an incredible variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles. The early years of the zoo’s operation had been hand to mouth, but with the help of the warm, subtropical San Diego climate, the zoo smothered its arkload of animals with lush plantings of exotic trees and flowers, overwhelming the arid native landscape and concrete animal abodes with an illusion of verdant fertility. Many of the heavy brick-and-mortar overhead expenses of the typical temperate-climate zoo were avoided in this comparatively idyllic setting. Contrary to the more ordinary zoo experience of smelly lion grottos and barred, steam-heated monkey houses, the San Diego Zoo provided a refreshing contrast for visitors. Even winter in San Diego was as nice as it ever got at home for most of the out-of-towners.

Many of the animal exhibits were styled in the form of open, dry-moated enclosures, a concept borrowed from the private Hagenbeck Tierpark, which opened near Hamburg, Germany, in the early 1900s. Efforts to produce truly naturalistic exhibits would not come to San Diego until the 1970s, however. Carl Hagenbeck was an animal dealer whose new style of zoo began to do away with the rigid separations between people and animals. San Diego’s expanded use of spacious, unfenced outdoor exhibits took away the detracting smells and many of the visual barriers. The use of trees and plantings softened hard exhibit structures and concealed the service areas. Some of the initial visitors to San Diego’s first open-moated lion exhibit, built in the 1920s, were so alarmed by their unbarred proximity to the animals that they complained to zoo management of its danger to the public. Zoos were very different even in those relatively recent times—certain animals that we now expect to see in most moderate to large zoos were relatively uncommon. The first giraffe born in captivity in the United States, for example, lived for only six days at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1889, and even by 1925 there were only five zoo giraffes in the entire country, although they were present in traveling circuses. It was also widely believed then that keeping a gorilla alive in captivity was virtually impossible.

The San Diego Zoo of the 1960s and ’70s was as much an emerging international theme park as a zoological garden. Joan Embery, one of the zoo’s nursery attendants, with her entourage of zoo baby oddities, had become a favorite guest on TV personality Johnny Carson’s Los Angeles–based Tonight Show, and she eventually logged more than seventy appearances, only a few short of Rodney Dangerfield. The crowds of visitors at the zoo

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1


What people think about Life at the Zoo

0 ratings / 0 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews