Review : What’s New? The Zoo! : A Zippy History of Zoos

Since we live about six miles from the Minnesota Zoo, we often had a family membership there when my boys were little. When Alex, my older son, was a preschooler, we usually visited the zoo at least twice a month. He had very definite favorites, so we always saw the reptile show and stopped by the zoo lab to see the bugs, lizards, and other small creatures. And it was there that I touched a snake and a tarantula for the first time.

alex.gatorWe also often visited zoos on vacation, most memorably in Florida. Alex was thrilled to be a “Trainer for the Day” at Gatorland, and since he was only 15, his younger brother Nathan and I were allowed to follow him around on his behind-the-scenes tour of the park—including getting up close and very personal with crocs, gators, and poisonous snakes.

T-nathan at Busch GardensNathan was more interested in birds. In the tropical bird exhibit at Busch Gardens, I purchased a cup of nectar for him so he could feed to the free-flying birds. He was thrilled when three conures (I think that’s what they were) flew over and landed on him for a treat. Fortunately, I took this picture a couple of seconds before one of the birds greedily grabbed the cup and knocked it from Nathan’s hands.

Visiting the zoo is also a favorite for preschool and elementary field trips. Before your next trip to the zoo, check out Kathleen Krull’s newest, What’s New? The Zoo! : A Zippy History of Zoos. In it, she explains how zoos have changed in purpose and design, from the first known zoo about 4400 years ago in Ur (present-day Iraq) to the 2009 birth of a rare panda at the San Diego Zoo.

The earliest known zoos were private ones belonging to kings, queens, emperors, and other very important men. Often their purpose was to show others how rich and powerful the zoo owners were. Eventually, curious people either began their own private zoos or visited the royal zoos in order to study animals. Aristotle, for example, spent so much time studying the critterWhat's New the Zoos in his private zoo that he was able to write the very first animal encyclopedia, and Carl Linnaeus developed his system of animal classification at the Swedish royal family’s zoo.

The first zoo that was open to the public was in London, where people wanted to escape the smoke and dirty buildings of the city and get back to nature. In 1846, for the first time, ordinary people could pay a penny and see fascinating animals from all over the world. In 1875, a zoo in India became the first to breed white tigers and other animals that were becoming hard to find. And the mission of many of today’s zoos is to protect endangered animals and re-introduce them back to the wild.

The design of zoos has changed, too. In 1907, a zoo near Hamburg, Germany, became the first public zoo without cages, using moats, trees, hedges, and artificial rocks to separate the residents from the guests. By 1978, visitors to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo were complaining that the habitats had so many plants and trees that they couldn’t see the animals.

In addition to these “firsts,” Krull provides lots of fun and fascinating peeks at zoos in the past. One of my favorites is about Jumbo the elephant, who was such a favorite of England’s children that, when P.T. Barnum bought the pachyderm for his new circus in America, a hundred thousand children wrote letters to the queen, begging her to stop the sale—reminding me of my own feelings in 1987 when the Minnesota Zoo sent our beluga whales to Sea World in California.

What’s New? The Zoo! will be an excellent choice for the science curriculum, as well as a great book for kids who just like animals.

What’s New? The Zoo! : A Zippy History of ZoosMackin Picks by Kathleen Krull with Marcellus Hall (ill). 9780545135719. 2014. Gr 1-5.

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