BOOK REVIEW: The Stationary Ark by Gerald Durrell

The Stationary ArkThe Stationary Ark by Gerald Durrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about zoos and aquaria. On the one hand, it’s an awe-inspiring experience to see the mighty, ferocious, and odd creatures that don’t make it into one’s backyard (for those who even have yards.) On the other hand, one has to wonder whether the creatures on display are as miserable as one would be in their shoes. (i.e. Figurative shoes. I do know that other animals don’t wear shoes… Except for horses… but I digress.)

In this book, Gerald Durrell examines the question of what makes for a zoo that’s good for the animals as well as for its human visitors. Most of us are sophisticated enough to realize that straight-up anthropomorphization (projecting human thought processes onto animals) isn’t a sound way to get to the bottom of an animal’s experience. Animals seem much more resilient than humans, but they aren’t infinitely tolerant. While one can’t conduct a “zoo resident satisfaction survey,” there are means by which to gain insight into the animal’s state of well-being, including: its health, its appetite, and its sex drive / reproductive success.

Durrell had the experience of opening a zoo, and was himself dismayed by what he saw at many of the zoos he visited. In some cases, they were designed for optimal viewing but didn’t give adequate consideration to the well-being of the animals. However, some zoos genuinely tried to act in the best interest of the animals, but they missed the mark by projecting human thinking onto animals–instead of examining the evidence for what conditions positively (or negatively) impact the animals’ health, appetite, and sex drive.

This short book (less than 150 pages) consists of seven chapters. The first chapter presents the challenges Durrell went through in trying to open a new and different kind of zoo. Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 6, respectively, examine the issues that must be taken into account with regards to enclosures, feeding, mating, and sick animals. Obviously, these chapters don’t cover the entirety of the subject in detail, but rather combine generalities with a few interesting (and often humorous) examples from specific species. Chapter 5 gets into the challenges of keeping records in a zoo that isn’t just about entertainment but is also focused on conservation and education. The last chapter sums up Durrell’s arguments for how Zoos can be of benefit to animal species other than humans.

There are no graphics, notations, or bibliography. It’s not that kind of book, but is rather an extended essay. It does feature both humor and insight in good measure.

I’d recommend this book for those who want to better understand what features of a zoo are good (or bad) for the animals, and how zoos might be restructured to advance their roles in conservation and education.

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READING REPORT: March 27, 2015

I finished The Painted Word this week. This book is a collection of words that the author finds noteworthy and intriguing as well as the definitions, origins, and interesting usages. There’s a loose theme of art (as the title might suggest), but it’s not particularly blatant and one might miss it if there weren’t quite a so many names of colors that probably didn’t appear in your Crayon box. There are also painting plates used as the books only graphics. Many of the words are one’s that will be well-known to the average reader, but others might be new additions to one’s vocabulary such as: bafflegab (misleading language), farteur (a professional and/or musical farter), and gymnophoria (the uneasy feeling that someone is undressing one with their eyes.)

Painted Word



I purchase a few new books this week, including: The Stationary Ark (a book by Gerald Durrell about running a zoo), Submission (a Story of O-style tell-all / novel by another Parisian woman), Dodger by Terry Pratchett (Pratchett recently passed away. I’ve only read one of his books to date [the first disc world book], but enjoyed it more than any fantasy book I’ve ever read [not my favorite genre.] This one is apparently Dickensian.), and 100 Films to See before you Die (The nice thing about this one is that it’s written by Anupama Chopra for the Times of India, and–therefore–features not only Indian [Bollywood and other] and Hollywood films but also other global films. I suspect that if I got the same book by an American author it would be 98 to 100% Hollywood–i.e. with maybe a couple French films thrown in if it was a particularly pretentious American film critic.)

Terry_Pratchett_Dodger_cover Anupama-Chopra-2330913 StationaryArk Submission


The only book that I spent significant time on that I haven’t mentioned in past Reading Reports was Gotham Writers Workshop: Writing Fiction. I read about half of this book a while back, before I got distracted by other readings (in truth, I got burned out on writing books.) However, I’ll now try to plow through this to the end, as well as a few of the other writing books that I’m pretty far into. It’s really a good book on the elements of fiction writing.



Besides those, I’ve been reading a book, Yoga Education for Children, Vol. 1, that I introduced last week. It’s the text for the yoga teacher training that I’m currently attending (RCYT). I’m about 2/3rds of the way through it.