Recommended for ages 10 and up
I’m about to gush here. If you read my reviews often enough, you probably have guessed that I love any nonfiction book about animals, conservation and preservation, and even better when the ideas are combined. In Bridge to the Wild, Dr. Caitlin O’Connell begins by recalling a childhood visit to the zoo – back when animals were still largely kept in cages (I remember it well), and saw a gorilla, seemingly in deep despair over living in a cage not much bigger than he was.
Thankfully, those days are (mostly) over. Zoos are more like natural preserves now, offering many animals larger spaces to roam; conservation and preservation is the order of the day, with zoo staff rescuing and caring for animals all over the world. As more animals face extinction at the hands of poachers, habitat devastation, and pollutants that contaminate their environment, zoos are playing a bigger part in keeping our wildlife alive, and conducting valuable research on improving their conditions and our world. Bridge to the Wild is Dr. O’Connell’s manifesto, where she lays out the valuable ways zoos are a bridge for humans, to the wild outside our doors.
Dr. O’Connell spent a week working with the staff at Zoo Atlanta – a private, nonprofit wildlife park and zoo – to observe the relationships between animals and caretakers, to help strengthen this bridge. After all, what we see as observers is only the tip of the iceberg; many, many loving and brilliant people are behind the scenes, learning about and learning from the animals, caring for them, loving them. From the Dawn Chorus – the morning symphony conducted by the tenants as the day begins, to the Dusk Chorus, when they start winding down for the night, Dr. O’Connell and Tim Rodwell introduce us to the inhabitants of Zoo Atlanta, from the pandas, to the hornbills, meerkats, gorillas, tigers and more.
There are anecdotes and beautiful photographs, a “Keeper Feature” that profiles the different keepers at Zoo Atlanta, and a fantastic note on ignorance and extinction, which is a real call to action to end senseless poaching of animal parts for talismans and “remedies” that simply don’t work. A full bibliography and sources are available and provide more research opportunities, and data sheets encourage budding zoologists to do some research on their own, guided by Dr. O’Connell, who lays out simple experiments to observe and record behaviors.
Animal books are hugely popular with my Corona Kids, and I’ve been stacking my collection with plenty of rescue, preservation, and conservation titles for them, to drive home the point that this planet doesn’t only belong to us. Bridge to the Wild is going to be one of those books I talk endlessly about, especially since my library is about a stone’s throw away from the Queens Zoo. I may even slip copies of this book into teachers’ hands during class visits, with a “hint, hint” nudge for a class trip activity (sorry, kids!). That’s how important this book is to me.