Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
A World of Animals: The San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. By Bill Bruns. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1983. Photographs. Index. 287 Pages. $35.00.
Reviewed by Barbara Marsh, copy editor of The Journal of San Diego History.
In 1983 the Zoological Society of San Diego published (through Harry N. Abrams, Inc.) an oversized book of text and wonderful photographs on the Zoo, its animals, and the people who care and have cared for them. A World of Animals is a magnificent book, but I have one regret. As one who has long been associated with printing in San Diego, I resent that we left this book for someone else to do. A New York publisher had it printed and bound in Japan, although it must be admitted they did a beautiful job.
The book opens with sixteen full-page, full-color photographs, and the quality of these pictures is a taste of the quality of the entire volume. Throughout are more color photos, nearly two hundred of them, with another hundred equally good black-and-white ones-pictures to share with children and grandchildren, although the text is not geared to children. It is clear, informative and amusing, with only one minor error-three Indian rhinos have been sired by Lasai, not “born to” him.
A World of Animals is especially important to the readers of The Journal of San Diego History because the text contains considerable material on the history of the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park. The history of the Zoo, at least in its early stages, is the story of one man with a vision, Dr. Harry Wegeforth. More than vision, he had initiative and stamina. How he combined those qualities with San Diego’s climate to build a world famous zoological garden on the chaparral-covered hills and canyons of Balboa Park is the beginning of this entertaining book. Although Wegeforth is clearly the “founding father” of the San Diego Zoo, A World of Animals also describes, in an anecdotal way, the contributions of Ellen Browning Scripps, Frank “Bring Them Back Alive” Buck, and most especially, Belle Benchley the first woman to head a major zoo. The work of the pioneers was continued by Charles Shroeder, Chuck Faust and John Fairfield.
Because Wegeforth’s successors had the same vision and even more, the Zoo created the innovative Wild Animal Park. This story is covered next in Bruns’ text. The trials of raising elephants, white rhinos and gorillas to fulfill the Wild Animal Park’s destiny as a breeding paradise for endangered species will bring memories to many San Diegans who have cheered and exulted and sympathized with the newspaper accounts of those challenges.
The problems and challenges of acquiring the animals as their shrinking natural habitats push them to the brink of extinction are equalled by the problems and challenges of housing, feeding and doctoring them. Throughout the book there is an emphasis on the need to help these beautiful creatures to survive and breed so that future generations can know them as living, sentient beings, not just stuffed forms in a museum. Perhaps “beautiful” is not the proper adjective to use, for certainly a female orangutan or rhinoceros can be beautiful only in the eyes of her, suitor!
A World of Animals is certainly more than just a “coffee table book,” although it will do honors to any table. It is a book to be tasted and enjoyed and shared, again and again. It is a book which contains useful anecdotal material about the history of the Zoo and Wild Animal Park. A World of Animals is especially a book for San Diegans and readers of The Journal of San Diego History, for so many of the persons to whom credit is given are still among us.