Thursday, December 15, 2016

Bridge to the Wild: Behind the scenes at the zoo by Caitlin O'Connell, including photographs by Timothy Rodwell

Caitlin O'Connell, author of The Elephant Scientist and other nonfiction titles about elephants, branches out into a wider look at a zoo. She introduces the book by talking about her personal experiences, both as a child and adult, with animals and how they shaped her life. The book itself is a journey through the Zoo Atlanta in Georgia, going behind the scenes to talk to the keepers and interact with the animals.

O'Connell meets the pandas and watches an experiment that will hopefully improve their breeding chances. She explains the social interactions of elephants, the parenting behavior of gorillas and orangutans and the family structure of meerkats. Readers "hear" the dawn chorus of bird calls and lion roars at the zoo, experience a trip to the reptile house, and see a keeper train a Komodo dragon. The final chapters follow a vet around the zoo, observe an experiment with gorillas, hear from the zookeepers, and finally see mating behavior in the flamingos. The book ends by revisiting the pandas at endangered species day.

Back matter includes photographs, sources and references, bibliography, a note on endangered animals, acknowledgements, index, and data sheets readers can use for their own observation at the zoo.

At first, I was skeptical about this book. It felt like it skipped around too much and didn't have a strong focus. But as I finished reading and began to reflect on it, I saw that it is, in fact, much more organized than at first it seems. All the observations, stories, and photographs blend together into a trip to the zoo - visiting your favorite animals, spending extra time observing interesting behavior, and sparking interest in future careers and study for kids and teens.

I'm a dedicated zoo-goer myself and my preference is to visit in winter - while there are some animals you won't be able to see, there are some you definitely won't miss - the people. Making inane comments, displaying ignorance of animals and behavior, being noisy in quiet areas, they drive me crazy! I hope that encouraging kids to read this book might make them think twice about the zoo as entertainment and start seeing it as an importance place of conservation and learning about animals.

Verdict: A great title to give to animal-lovers and kids considering careers with animals - pair this with Zoology for Kids for a great look into the many possible job options at a zoo.

ISBN: 9780544277397; Published 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Purchased for the library

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