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Beyond the Bars at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo

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Thomas French spent four years documenting life at the Lowry Park Zoo for The St. Petersburg Times:

A tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo, which killed one teenager and left two others injured on Christmas Day, recently brought U.S. zoos into the national spotlight.

Reporter Thomas French spent four years chronicling the daily life of the animals and humans at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla., for the St. Petersburg Times. The Lowry Park Zoo was once regarded as one of the worst zoos in the United States, but with a major renovation and reopening in 1988, the zoo has worked hard to repair its image.

Even at the most enlightened zoos, French says, many ethical questions loom about the paradox of keeping wild animals in captivity for educational and conservation purposes. Zoos, he says, "are built upon an idea both beguiling and repellent — the notion that we can seek out the wildness of the world and behold its beauty, but that we must first contain that wildness."

In a nine-part series, French follows the story of wild animals spending their lives behind bars — abandoned manatee calves, a pair of rare Sumatran tigers, a chimpanzee who learned to blow kisses at female zoo visitors — entertaining and educating the public.

In the first installment of the series, French describes 11 elephants who were taken from overcrowded game reserves in Swaziland to be placed in zoos in the United States. French writes: "Either they have been rescued. Or enslaved. Or both."