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Trouble at the Zoo

Back in 2011, October to be exact, I read a story online (originally sourced from the Wall Street Journal) about a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio where the owner released all the animals and killed himself.

Yes, I know, it’s not a nice or humorous story. The tragic result was inevitable, as the story’s headline made clear – “One Man’s Zoo Turns Into a Killing Field”. Authorities were forced to track down the escapees and destroy them. In all, 48 exotic animals, including 12 lions, 8 bears and 18 endangered Bengal tigers, were killed.

The last sentence in the article reads in part, “authorities were still looking for a macaque monkey and a gray wolf, said Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz.”

While every aspect of the event is horrendous, it gave me the idea to write about it from the animals’ point of view, specifically that of the gray wolf. The resulting story was originally called, “It Wasn’t My Idea”, but I changed the title to “The Great Escape” (and shortened it) in order to submit it to a short-story writing contest. Although the tale may be bleak, my version was intended to be humorous.

It was the only piece of writing I’ve ever submitted to any literary contest, in this case the Vancouver Writers Festival, which occurs on the city’s wonderful Granville Island every October . (Not this past year, I hasten to add.)

I did not win. I have no idea what any judge thought of it, but I do hope it brought a smile to someone’s face, maybe even a laugh or two.

The point is the very next year I came across a story about the Toronto Zoo, about the planned arrival of two panda bears from China and the resulting need to renovate the enclosure of the Amur tiger. This news item became the genesis for another series I’ve been working on ever since. Not surprisingly, it’s called Zoo Stories (not very original, I know, but at least accurate).

Ever since, at least once or twice a year, I came across a story related to some zoo, which inspires me to add another tale. The collection, which was never originally meant for publication but for family amusement, now amounts to over a dozen. Although it’s still a work in progress, I’ve now decided it’s worth publishing at some future date.

The lead characters are:

  • Amur, the self-important tiger, who usually triumphs over adversity despite being clueless;
  • Whitey, a brilliant technologically-adept snow leopard;
  • No-name, a naïve, supportive and always hungry polar bear; and
  • Red, a combative red panda.

Later on, several more characters become regulars, especially Ebb and Flow, twin aardvarks.

The stories are always told from the tiger’s viewpoint, who – as the zoo’s ostensible leader – takes on a whole host of issues (strikes, rumors of closure, threats of revolution, disappearing animals, refugees, financial malfeasance, elections, runaways, economic development, etc.) while trying to manipulate or get a leg up on a cast of supporting characters, both good and bad, cunning and foolish.

I also wrote several stories based on a trip to Banff in 2013, where I began a similar kind of parody based on the acclaimed national park and the bears that inhabit the area, once more told from the animals’ viewpoint.

It’s all good-natured fun and, let me assure readers, no animal is ever harmed in the production. I trust the Toronto Zoo will not take offence with the liberties I’ve taken at its expense. Being a huge fan of well-run, animal-friendly, publicly-managed and owned zoos, I visit them at every opportunity I get. I’d encourage every reader to support their local organization.

As of this post, I’ve decided to give my readers and website subscribers an opportunity to read the very first of these stories, Trouble At the Zoo, in both PDF and ePUB format. I hope you’ll enjoy it. If so, rest assured there’s plenty more to come. Any feedback (especially kudos!) gratefully received.

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