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Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West

Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West

By Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier
Published by Reaktion Books, 2002

First, it must be made clear that this is a beautifully produced book. Excellent illustrations, high quality printing and design, and the sort of book it is a pleasure to handle. The illustrations are taken from a wide range of sources, including many early photos, as well as paintings from artists ranging from Landseer to Macke.

The book is in five sections: the first deals with the early zoos, from 1500-1700, the second the 1800s and the third section the 20th century. The last two sections comprise of a historical portfolio of photos, and a section on 'Artists and the Zoo'.

The authors are both historians and French, and this results in the only serious shortcomings of the book. Certain parts of it are literally choc-a-bloc with errors and mistakes. I have not seen the original French edition of 1998, but I am sure some of the errors can be blamed on the translator, who cannot have had a very thorough grasp of zoology. But none of those involved in its writing or translation had any real knowledge of conservation, and in a book dealing with zoos at the beginning of the 21st century this is a serious failing. For example it is claimed that CITES bans the trade in species listed in its appendices (not true, trade in most is allowed under licence), it appears the authors are unaware that PNUE is the French version of UNEP. The only mention of Sir Peter Scott describes him as 'the author of Eye of the Wind' who was influenced by Gerald Durrell's opening of Jersey' - a remarkable anachronism, and role of Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust is to all intents and purposes ignored. I could add many other criticisms, but the book is worth acquiring for the illustrations, and with that reservation I would recommend it, and hopefully a second edition will rectify the mistakes of the first.

Review by John Burton

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