As many of my blog followers know, I have very mixed feelings about the existence of zoos (click on zoos in the sidebar to see several posts I have written on the subject). I had heard good things about the Bronx Zoo and checked on the conservation program before I decided to visit last week. But my overall response was a deep sadness and reminder of why I haven’t been in well over a decade. The rodents that were awake (many are nocturnal) scurried and scampered cheerfully enough and a couple of brown bears were having fun playing together in their pool, but mainly I saw magnificent animals in tiny enclosures, their wild spirits crushed (my subjective stance, I know) which broke my heart. In particular I had trouble not crying when I saw a majestic bald eagle regally poised on the branch of a small tree in an enclosure of a few square feet. I must have watched him for ten to fifteen minutes and he did not move. These birds have six foot plus wingspans and are created to soar and swoop. Eagles conserve energy by gliding in thermal wind currents achieving speeds of up to 50 mph and travelling up to 180 miles per day. Eagles have been measured at traveling 150 mph during a dive. The only legitimate reasons in my mind for animal captivity are, a) for rescue when they would otherwise die, and b) specific breeding programs for conservation.
I am getting off my little soapbox to review a book that I had put on hold at the library before I decided on my spontaneous zoo visit. It’s a gem!
Written by Jean Craighead George
Illustrated by Wendell Minor
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
Themes: The Bald Eagle, conservation, adoption, DDT, collaboration
Years ago a boy climbed to an eagle nest in an old tree by a remote lake. The nest belonged to a pair of eagles he had named Uncle Sam and First Lady. He had not seen them here for a while.
Synopsis: This is a book that celebrates the prospering of a species that was highly threatened in North America during the rapid increase of damaging pesticides in agriculture during the 20th century. This story is narrated through the eyes of a young boy, emphasizing how children can make a real difference in the world. A boy climbs high up a tree to a bald eagle nest, and notices that the two eggs in the nest are cracked. He knows this pair well and also that not long ago 450 pairs of bald eagles survived in the wild because of the impact of the pesticide DDT making the eagles’ eggs soft and fragile. The boy meets with a ranger who is hoping that this nesting pair may adopt an eagle egg he has from Alaska. The boy agrees to keep an eye on the pair and see whether they accept the egg because the ranger needs to head back to other parks. The boy keeps watch and sees the eagles adopt the egg, first the male and then the female! Not only does he keep a watchful eye on the nest but he also helps by catching fish and tossing them to the eagles to feed their baby. The eaglet grows and thrives and finally takes her first wobbly flight.
Why I like this book: Craighead George adds many details and facts about the threats to these regal birds, their history in the US and especially the devastation that DDT caused on their numbers. I smiled at the boy naming the pair, Uncle Sam and First Lady. Craighead George specializes in writing about nature and the environment and always reveals the beauty and wonder of the wilderness, enticing young readers to do their own exploring.
Telling the story through the eyes of a young boy, emphasizes how children can make a real difference in their world. It is also is a story about collaboration, between a ranger and a young boy. Conservation projects are almost never done in isolation by individuals, but are rather wonderful group efforts across borders.
Landscape artist, Wendell Minor’s paintings in this book reflect the beauty and majesty of this species and its habitat. In gouache and watercolor, he creates vivid natural scenes that are authentic and inviting. He plays with the lighting on each page and the skies are heavenly.
This is a beautiful addition to my books on conservation and endangered species. It is the third book in the new Craighead George/Minor nature series. Don’t miss the first two about wolves and buffalo.