Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream by Carson Vaughan

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This was my book club’s pick for July!  I was talking with our hostess and said “look at this book!”  To my surprise, she had already read it! Not only that, but her husband used to live in the town where this book takes place!  Of course she decided that she would pick it to read at book club!

Welcome to Royal, NE with a population of about…80 folks.  The town wasn’t really much to look at, with a bunch of abandoned buildings and dirt roads.  Although what it did have, was it’s own Zoo and for nearly 20 years!  This made for an interesting tourist attraction for the area, although eventually things took a turn for the worse.  This is where our story is made, in the tragedy of Zoo Nebraska.

It all began with a vision from Dick Haskin, who was studying to be a primatologist.   He is struggling with the idea of leaving his current job and the chimpanzee he has trained, for a chance to go to Rwanda and work with primatologist Dian Fossey.  Unfortunately, her death dissolves any chances of this dream to work on conservation.  Dick’s devotion to primates didn’t fully die with her.  He returns to his hometown with Reuben, an adolescent chimp, in the bed of a pickup truck and transformed a trailer home into the Midwest Primate Center.  As the tourist trade multiplied, so did the inhabitants of what would become Zoo Nebraska,  boosting the economy in Royal and became the  source of a power struggle that would lead to the tragic implosion of Dick Haskin’s dream again.

Later on in the story, things takes a turn for the worse when an enclosure is left unlocked and several chimpanzees escape.  With Dick Haskin out of the picture at this point, all hell breaks loose at the Midwest Primate Center.  If there is one thing you need to know about chimpanzees, it’s that they are extremely strong.  At one point in the story, a chimp grabs a workers leg and snaps it, like it was a twig.  So you can imagine the chaos that is exploding.  Now, this is a very small town in Nebraska mind you and certain force is brought out against the chimps to protect the visitors and on lookers.  Unfortunately, the result ends in the death of one chimp in particular that was dear to Dick Haskin.

The only reason I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars, was there were points in the book that I actually skipped over because the author would sort of ramble on about things that were irrelevant to the story.  I would recommend this book, although be prepared as it really isn’t a happy story, but one that did need to be told.

Available on Amazon – Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of an American Dream by Carson Vaughan

 

The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals by Joel Sartore (National Geographic)

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

This is a book that should be on everyone’s coffee tables and book shelves!  I found it on the ‘new’ release shelf at my local library, being an animal lover I had to check it out.  National Geographic the Photo ark is a lifelong project, already spanning 25 years, of photographer Joel Sartore.  It is his goal to take portraits of the world’s animals, especially those that are endangered and put them at our fingertips.  Joel has a powerful message sprawling through this fantastic book conveyed with humor, compassion and art.  Joel hopes we will look into the eyes of these animals, to know these animals, in order to save them.

Sartore’s intends to photograph every animal in captivity around the world.  He is visiting zoos and wildlife rescue centers to create studio portraits of 12,000 species, with an emphasis on those facing extinction.  He has photographed more than 6,000 already and now, thanks to a multi-year partnership with National Geographic, he may reach his goal.

As I was going through the book, I happened upon an Albino North American Porcupine with the caption “This albino porcupine is named Halsey for the spot in Nebraska near where she was rescued after being hit on the highway.  Today Halsey is thriving, despite a dental condition that prevents her from ever being returned to the wild.”  This caught me off guard because I happen to live in Nebraska!  Not only that, but as I kept reading I read more captions and descriptions of animals that were photographed at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (Nebraska),  Nebraska Wildlife Rehab in Louisville (Nebraska) and the Lincoln’s Children Zoo (Nebraska).

Then, after finishing the book, I read about the photographer and author Joel Sartore.  He is a photographer, author, teacher, conservationist, National Geographic Fellow and a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine.  He is the founder of this project, the Photo Ark, has contributed to Audubon magazine, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, Smithsonian magazine and numerous book projects.  Are you ready for the icing on the cake????  Joel is always happy to return from his travels around the world to his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, where his lives with is wife and their three children.

I cannot stress enough how amazing this book was, especially from the fact that this project is being conducted by a fellow Nebraskan.  I look forward to seeing more of Joel Sartore’s work in the future!