Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Juan gone -- Part 2

Tom's post about the black bear that escaped from the Berlin zoo got me thinking about zoos.

I grew up in a generation of American boys who idolized Frank "Bring 'Em Back Alive" Buck, the 20th century's most flamboyant live animal dealer. Buck's clients included many of America's zoos. He supplied them with elephants, tigers, leopards, apes, monkeys, exotic birds, and any other beast they asked for.

By the time my own children started reading, there were new zoologist heroes and heroines. Joy Adamson, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey. The book titles were different too: "Bring 'Em Back Alive" replaced by "Living Free" and "Gorillas in the Mist."

But give Frank Buck this: While his friends blasted away at wild beasts with guns, he brought 'em back alive. Unfortunately, Buck's animals were saved from the trophy room wall only to spend their lives in grim confinement.

Today's zoos are not so grim and zoos no longer collect merely for display. Their agendas emphasize education, breeding, and conservation. No contemporary zoo of any stature will display a rare or vulnerable animal unless it intends to promote an increase in that species' population.

Still, I can't help but feel sympathy for Juan the Escapee. I hope he enjoyed his brief taste of freedom.