Paignton Zoo

Reading recommendations from BIAZA Members - non-fiction

Posted: 28th February, 2023

In preparation for BIAZA Zoo Tales week, we decided individuals in the BIAZA membership to write in with book recommendations, and here were the results! Time to update the old reading list? 

Petra Kerkhove, Administrator and Aquarist at Galway Atlantaquaria:

The Brilliant Abyss by Helen Scales
For me, this book was an eye-opener. Even for someone with a life-long curiosity and passion for wildlife, I was unaware of these extremely fascinating, alien creatures. 

I was also unprepared to learn of the scale of utter destruction the deep sea is facing through trawling and deep-sea mining. It genuinely seems that because we cannot see the deep, we almost forget that it is there. We need to do all we can to preserve this fascinating world that is still teaching us so much every day.

After reading this book, my lifelong interest in the underwater world has turned into a passion for the deep. It is just amazing that in a world where we know so much, there is one habitat left where one can just simply marvel at the unknown. Or as Scales says herself in the epilogue:

"The deep sea will never run out of things for us to dream about. Places will remain unseen and unvisited, fleeting moments will be missed and nimble creatures, whose existence nobody can guess, will keep slipping out of sight. We need to do all we can to keep it that way. (p. 294)"

And isn’t that a wonder worth saving?

Saltwater in the Blood by Easkey Britton
As someone not so apt at expressing herself on paper, I marvel at how much of a connection Easkey makes with her audience.

She addresses important issues and gives us sobering facts on the state of the ocean. She highlights the important role it plays in providing oxygen to the planet, and how much damage is being done by pollution. It is easy to pick out the negative undertone in these chapters, yet I feel that the book in essence is uplifting and positive. Regardless of the big picture, what we can do to make a difference to ourselves, and the planet, is to interact, acknowledge and educate ourselves about the sea. We need to play, get in touch, be in awe. It will benefit us, and in return, it will benefit the planet.

This book is a must-read for everyone. Not just people living next to the sea, or surfers, or environmentalists. It is a beautifully written, deeply personal book, yet universally relatable.

Ann Sylph, Librarian at The ZSL Library & Archives:

Female heroes of bird conservation by Rosemary Low
Rosemary Low is well known for her books on parrot husbandry so it is interesting to see she how she has developed another interest – the contributions of women to bird conservation around the world, both now and in the past.

Chapter 2 ‘Women in zoos’, is particularly relevant with this year’s fast approaching BIAZA International Women’s Day conference next week, in this chapter she highlights the few women working in zoos in the past, emphasising even now, how very few women work in curatorial roles.

The book features many women active in bird conservation both now and in the past, containing many comments from women throughout the book. Often the work of these women in the past has been forgotten or ‘hidden’ so it is so interesting to find out how women did contribute to bird conservation.  The book includes interviews with a selection of women about their experiences of working in this area, the difficulties they have experienced, their successes and the discrimination they have experienced.

Victims of fashion : animal commodities in Victorian Britain by Helen Louise Cowie.
This is such a well written, easily readable and well researched book which may not immediately seem relevant to BIAZA members but it is fascinating.  The book obviously focusses on the Victorian period but it raises issues which are still very relevant to animal conservation today.

The author has carried out a significant amount of research in both primary and secondary sources, investigating such a novel subject area. Helen Cowie is a Professor of History at the University of York, focussing on the cultural history of science and the history of animals with a particular interest on the history in zoos and as exotic pets. I have read a few of her books and found them all fascinating but I particularly ‘enjoyed’ this book (I am not sure this is a subject to enjoy?). As one of my major interests is the past and often forgotten contributions of women in zoology and wildlife conservation - I was reminded that so many women were active in campaigning for animals but also that women were the major market for animal commodities…

Miss Clara and the celebrity beast in art, 1500-1860 by Charles Avery, Helen Cowie, Samuel Shaw and Robert Wenley
I should admit I have a particular interest in this book as ZSL Library and Archives lent items about our first hippo, Obaysch, to the Barber Institute for this fascinating exhibition. This is the exhibition catalogue but as well as listing the often unique art works displayed, it includes three fascinating essays about the history of exotic animals in art.

Although the focus is Miss Clara, an Indian rhino, other animals were featured in the exhibition (and this catalogue) such as elephants and of course, Obaysch the hippo who arrived at London Zoo in 1850 and caused a sensation ‘Hippomania’ in Victorian England.

Robert Wenley’s essay focusses on Miss Clara; Charles Avery discusses a elephants before Miss Clara’s arrival in Europe, in the renaissance and baroque art; Samuel Shaw looks at how animals were exhibited in private menageries and public zoos.

As the exhibition had to close owing to lockdowns, over 7,000 people still managed to visit, do take a look at this book if you missed the chance to visit and also to learn, in an easily accessible way, more about how celebrity animals have been depicted by artists and something about zoo history.

Geoff, volunteer at Shaldon Wildlife Trust:

Reptiles and Amphibians of Europe by Walter Hellmich
The only thing that I was good at in school was Biology; due to this I visited zoos, gardens and museums. I used to go to my local park and wild scrubland looking for wildlife, especially Reptiles. I bought a book called “REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS OF EUROPE” by Walter Hellmich.

One of my dreams was to work in a zoo. Strangely I trained and worked for years as a chef and butcher. A bit of a tangent perhaps. Now that I am retired, I can indulge in things that I couldn’t do when having to try and keep a roof over my family. One of these things involves volunteering at Shaldon Zoo. My local Zoo. It only took 54 years from leaving school but Walter Hellmich, Author of Reptiles and amphibians and of Europe, I got there.

Jimmy's Farm and Wildlife Park:

Tales from Jimmy's Farm
In Tales From Jimmy's Farm, Jimmy Doherty reveals how he made his childhood dream of having his own wildlife park a reality - how, starting with a few rare breed pigs, he would transform a derelict and forgotten Suffolk farm into an A-Z of the animal world, from anteaters to zebras. Taking us on a journey through the seasons - spring lambs to rutting reindeer, sun-loving meerkats to festive monkeys - Jimmy reveals the ups and downs of a life immersed in the natural world, and explains how we too, wherever we may live, can benefit ourselves and the planet by embracing the remarkable animals around us.

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