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Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Review: Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper

There are times (like, the entire last month) when I worry that this blog gets a little too heavy, a little too depressing, a little too much talk about extinction and doom and gloom.  To be sure, while there are lots of weighty issues surrounding the zoo world, there is also a lot of magic, a lot of beauty, and an awful lot of humor (not all of which involve poop).  No zookeeper spends any amount of time in the profession without accumulating a lot of pretty unique stories.

Bill Naylor has a lot of stories, and he's collected some of his more madcap ones in a memoir entitled Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper.  Detailing several decades of work as a zookeeper in the UK and in Australia, Naylor shares his stories with dry humor, engaging descriptions, and a willingness to recount embarrassing episodes that I hope to reach one day.  While a wide variety of animals appear in his stories, from juice-guzzling chimpanzees to a keeper-stomping kangaroo known and feared throughout the zoo, birds and bird keepers dominate the book.  This made the book especially appealing to me, as books about bird keepers are few and far between.

The most ridiculous animals in the book, however, are the ones that don't have feathers and fur.  Zoo animals tend to behave in sensible, predictable ways; humans (whether zoo staff or zoo visitors) can't always be counted on to do the same.  Naylor introduces some pretty strange characters in his story, from a con-man zoo director who fakes animal escapes to drive the gate to a belligerently anti-snake society lady that Naylor manages to win over (well... sort of).  I've had some pretty crumby bosses over my career, but at least I can say that none of them attempted to burn down the zoo to cover up the fact that they were stealing animals.

Of course in any zoo-themed book it's the animals that will be the stars, and Naylor doesn't let his human eccentrics crowd the critters out of the limelight.  Throughout the book we follow him as he captures escaped kookaburras, gets nearly eaten alive by sea lions, and clears the name of a parrot accused on grand larceny.  Misadventures of a Zoo Keeper belongs on a shelf with Gerald Durrell's A Bevy of Beasts and Peter Brazaitis' You Belong In A Zoo! as an enjoyable, plain-spoken series of adventures of entering the world of zoos, a unique world where anything can happen - and therefore, does happen.

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