Sailing with Noah: Stories from the World of Zoos by Jeffrey P. Bonner
Written in a lively, accessible style, Sailing with Noah explores the role of zoos in today’s society and their future as institutions of education, conservation, and research. Along the way, Bonner relates a variety of true stories about animals and those who care for them (or abuse them), offering his perspective on heavily publicized incidents and describing less-well-known events with compassion and humor in turn. By bringing the stories of the animals’ lives before us, Bonner gives them a voice. He strongly believes that zoos must act for living things, and he argues that conservation is a shared responsibility of all mankind. This book helps us to understand why biodiversity is important and what it means to be a steward of life on earth.
Q: Why did you choose the name Sailing with Noah for this book?
In the last chapter I talk about how much I hate it when people refer to zoos as arks. But the Biblical story of Noah always seemed important to me. I’ve always viewed it as a parable that speaks to our obligation to care for all living things. I think of the world as the ultimate ark – a small, fragile sphere that holds all of life as we know it. In the end, we’re all Noahs of a sort. All of us hold the ability to steward life on Earth in our hands.
Q: You cite a visit to an aquarium and the awe an electric eel inspired in you as the moment you were changed for good. Can you think of any other moments like this where things seemed to just “click” for you?
I can think of a lot of times where things just clicked. The first that pops to mind was when I took my first anthropology course. I went to the first class and then came back to my dorm and began to read the text. I don’t know how much of it I read in one sitting, but I flipped open the book to find out where the author worked (Columbia University) and decided on the spot that I would go to graduate school there. Of course, there’s also the first date with my wife…
Q: What did you find to be the most challenging thing about writing this book?
The real challenge writing this book turned out to be available time. I really didn’t have any. I wound up working on it pretty much every Sunday that I was in town. The stories were the easy part.
Q: How do you feel about the current expansion plans for the St. Louis Zoo?
I guess I’d have to say that I’ve never been busier in my life. Part of that is due to the expansion plans, but you also have to consider that we’re still building projects that resulted from our current fund-raising effort, “The Living Promise Campaign.” I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I still have two trips that I’m leading up to Churchill, Manitoba, to see polar bears this fall. There seem to be so many things happening all at once. But I love working on the expansion; the only problem is that I already have a full-time job.
Q: What would you like readers to take away from this book?
I hope they’ll gain a better understanding of the role of modern zoos. More important, I hope that this book will make people care more about living things. I want people to feel a sense of responsibility and understand that even the smallest of things, if we all do them, can have a huge impact on our environment.
Q: What are you currently working on?
In terms of books, I’m writing fiction now. The problem is more one of time than anything else, so I’m not making much progress. Work pretty much has overtaken me and my work/life balance seems to be more than a little out of whack. But I’m collecting some story ideas for a sequel. Who knows? Maybe another is coming (someday).