The 'Zoo Story,' Both Beguiling And Repellent In his new book, Thomas French goes behind the scenes at a Florida zoo to examine the paradox of zoos that draw in visitors with the beauty and wildness of animals — but also contain that wildness for the sake of their visitors.
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The 'Zoo Story,' Both Beguiling And Repellent

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The 'Zoo Story,' Both Beguiling And Repellent

The 'Zoo Story,' Both Beguiling And Repellent

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Reporter Thomas French spent six years at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. All zoos, he writes in his new book, even the most enlightened, 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.

Zoos argue that they are fighting for the conservation of the Earth, that they can educate the public and provide refuge and support for vanishing species, and they're right.

Animal rights groups argue that zoos traffic in living creatures, exploiting them for financial gain and amusement, and they are right. Today, Thomas French and the paradox of zoos.

Later in the hour, why 12 minutes is an impossible gap to make up, part of our guide to the Tour de France. But first, when the human desire to protect and control nature collide. If you work with animals at zoos or elsewhere, tell us a story. 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Thomas French joins us from Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta. His new book is "Zoo Story: Life In The Garden Of Captives," and it's nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. THOMAS FRENCH (Author, "Zoo Story: Life In The Garden Of Captives"): Nice to talk to you, Neal, thanks again.

CONAN: You defend both zoos and animal rights groups. Animals, though, seem to be caught in the middle.

Mr. FRENCH: They're definitely caught in the middle. There's a lot of ideology regarding zoos and regarding captivity. I was really interested when I started hanging out at Lowry Park and finding out what's the reality of being inside a zoo for the animals and for the people who love and care for those animals.

CONAN: And there is a lot of interesting things that go on there, but I remember a quote from one of the keepers in your book: We have a lot of death here.

Mr. FRENCH: There is a lot of death. If you're going to work with, you know, hundreds of species and more than 1,600 animals, you're going to have a lot of death.

You work with seahorses, for instance, and they have a mortality rate when they're born of, I think a good mortality rate is 80, 85 percent. So there's there's both life and death. There's a lot of joy and there's a lot of loss inside the gates of a zoo.

CONAN: You mentioned seahorses, and a lot of your book is about some of the charismatic animals, the chimps, the tiger, the Siberian tiger, the elephants that we'll talk about a lot. But a lot of your book is also about the herps, the lesser-known species or at least the less-charismatic species.

Mr. FRENCH: Yeah, it's - one of the most fun parts of hanging out at a zoo is reporting what the herps keepers and their species. They work with cold-blooded animals, snakes...

CONAN: Cold-blooded, you mean ectotherms.

Mr. FRENCH: I mean ectotherms. Dustin Smith(ph), wonderful man who is in charge of the herps department, had this whole rant that he goes on about we shouldn't even call them cold-blooded because he thinks the world is prejudiced against cold-blooded animals. And we shouldn't even call them cold-blooded, he says, because, you know, most of the time, their blood is about 92 degrees. That's not cold, do you think? I don't think it's that cold. We should call them ectotherms.

Dustin was sort of on a crusade, and still is on a crusade, on behalf of those creatures.

CONAN: And the divide between or among the keepers, between the bunny-huggers and the non-bunny-huggers.

Mr. FRENCH: Yes, the there's a good portion of the animal-keeping staff that are nicknamed bunny-huggers because they remember the animals' birthdays and they baby-talk them. They're very aware of the species they're working with and that they're not domesticated species, but they love them and they treat them in some ways like pets, not in their care but just in their attitude toward them.

And then there's the non-bunny-huggers, who are most prominently the herps keepers, who work with the cold-blooded animals, and they take a very non-romantic, non-sentimentalist view of animals.

And there's a debate between them about how we should approach nature, but it really carries out in sort of a low-grade form of guerrilla warfare, where the herps keepers will leave the molts of emperor scorpions in one of the bunny-hugger's boots. The bunny-huggers will blanket the herps office with Barbie stickers. So it's really, it's a debate beneath the surface about how do we approach nature.

CONAN: And it is, of course, a lot easier to romanticize an orangutan or an elephant than it is a python.

Mr. FRENCH: Yes, and that's one of the things, the reasons that the zoo spends so much energy during the course of the book on bringing in these elephants. A lot of zoos really rely on what they call charismatic megafauna, which is a great term for big, lovable animals and animals that the public loves and will pay to go see.

So if they can get some elephants at the zoo, which is what they fight to do in the course of the events described in the book, if they can bring in some elephants, then that will draw more people through the gate, and hopefully then, maybe they'll appreciate a python.

CONAN: And we should point out this is a zoo - this is also the story of a zoo, as well as the story of the people who work there and, indeed, of the animals who live there. But this was a zoo that back in the bad old days was among the worst in the country, with tiny little quarters for very large animals, where it was deplorable.

It reinvented itself. The old place was bulldozed and rebuilt, and you really tell the story of a man named Lex Salisbury, whose ambition led to the creation of this whole new African wing and, indeed, the importation of these elephants that became so controversial.

Mr. FRENCH: Lex was the CEO of the zoo at the time I was covering it, and he is a remarkable man, lots of energy, lots of ambition, lots of ideas. And he was determined to push Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa from being a respected mid-sized zoo into a respected big-city zoo. And the plan to bring in the elephants was at the centerpiece of that.

Lex was described by many people to me as a visionary. He was described to me - people used that word even if they didn't like him, and there were certainly a number of people who didn't like him because visionaries are not always the easiest people to work for.

CONAN: He was known as the White Devil.

Mr. FRENCH: El Diablo Blanco.

CONAN: And a reputation, a terminology that he was familiar with and didn't entirely discourage.

Mr. FRENCH: He did not. He wasn't it wasn't like he was spreading that nickname around, but he recognized that his desire to elevate the zoo and to push and squeeze as much as they could out of the staff and out of the budget was not always going to win him friends.

And there were a lot of well-meaning zookeepers who could see what he was doing and respected him. There were some other very well-meaning keepers who just simply couldn't stand him because they felt he was it was all about his ambition and not about the animals.

And so there was this kind of the tension between those who felt that the parts of his personality which were aggressive in a good way, and the parts of his personality that took a toll on his human staff.

CONAN: And it is hard not to read this book - I guess you could see it two ways, as a story of hubris or as a tragedy, where Lex Salisbury is, in the end, brought down.

Mr. FRENCH: Yeah, he's brought down by a pack of wayward monkeys, of all things, which is an ending that I could never envision. In fact, when I started working on the book, there was no way to foresee it.

But he was opening, getting ready to open up a private, for-profit game park about an hour to the east of Lowry Park Zoo, outside of Lakeland, and he'd brought in a troop of Patas monkeys and installed them on an island. And one well, literally 15 minutes or so after they were released onto the island, all 15 of them swam across the moat that had been placed there and went into the wild.

And the coverage of these monkeys' escape, because it took a long time to catch them, ultimately led to questions about Lex's relationship between running this for-profit venture only an hour away from this non-profit venture that he was also running.

CONAN: And there were questions about the books. There were questions about his wife leaving dogs in the car on a hot day. It just spun all out of control.

Mr. FRENCH: It was one of these things where there was a certain primal nature to it, where you could feel all these people, the city fathers and leaders of Tampa had embraced Lex as someone who had made their zoo something to be proud of.

There are city leaders there in Tampa to this day who grew up going to the old Lowry Park Zoo and were embarrassed and ashamed of it. And Lex was one of the prime forces in making a new zoo that they could be proud of. And yet, when his power grew a little greater and went beyond some bounds that they were comfortable with, they turned on him in a very savage way.

CONAN: We're talking about this story about people, but much of the book, "Zoo Story: Life In The Garden Of Captives," focuses on the animals. We want to talk today with those of you in the audience who work with animals, whether you work in zoos or not, 800-989-8255. Email us,

And we are trying to get to that fundamental paradox that Thomas French addresses in his book over keeping animals captive but also protecting species. Exploiting them, yes, but also protecting them from places, well, in many places he describes, there is no wild left for them to live in.

800-989-8255. Email us, Let's go to Scott(ph), Scott with us from Palo Alto.

SCOTT (Caller): Hi there. I'm a horse-shoer, actually, but I do pro bono work for the Oakland Zoo out here in California. And I just wanted to comment that what I end up doing is I trim the feet of their giraffes and antelope, various deer, also their goats in the petting zoo.

CONAN: So these are animals whose hooves don't get the wear and tear that they would in the wild, so they need to be trimmed.

Mr. FRENCH: Yeah, typically it's the older animals that can't, you know, move around as much. And so we pull them in and we trim them. Some of them, we have to sedate, you know, in order to trim them.

But I wanted to comment, you know, it's a question of do the benefits outweigh the costs? And this zoo has done so much. I mean, it's a poor neighborhood, but it's just brought this community together, and it brings kids in, hundreds and hundreds of kids in, and people who couldn't necessarily normally go to San Francisco Zoo or San Diego Zoo. You know, these are much bigger zoos.

So, but the animals there, they all seem I don't want to say happy, but they seem very comfortable. And the people who work at these zoos are some of the most compassionate people I've ever met in my life. And I know they don't get paid a whole lot of money. I mean, they just work their tails off to make it happen for these animals. So I just wanted to share that with you.

CONAN: Well, Scott, thank you very much for the description. We appreciate it, and good luck with the giraffes and the antelope.

There's a scene in your book, Thomas French, where you describe the necessity to trim the hooves of the elephants.

Mr. FRENCH: Elephant foot care is really, really important to their well-being inside of zoos and can be very dangerous. Elephants are a very dangerous species to work with.

For a time there in the United States, there was an average of one keeper killed a year inside zoos by an elephant, including one keeper in the early '90s, who was killed by an elephant at Lowry Park.

But there's been a lot of advances made in trying to find ways to keep the keepers safe and the elephants safer while giving them the care they need. And so they have to work very closely on trimming their foot pads. Exfoliating their skin is really important. So the skin care, and the foot care, and these keepers, like I say, like Scott was saying, they love their animals, and they want to take good care of them.

One of the things that was interesting was how the keepers themselves have very ambivalent feelings about working in a zoo.

CONAN: We'll have more on that when we come back after a short break. Stay with us. Thomas French is our guest. His book is "Zoo Story: Life In The Garden Of Captives."

If you work with animals in zoos or outside, call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Thomas French's book is "Zoo Story: Life In The Garden Of Captives," a title that could refer to the animals in Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo or, as we've heard, to some of the people who work there.

The book begins with those 11 African elephants we talked about earlier, flying to Tampa in a giant 747 with their caretaker, Mick Reilly(ph). Four of them went to Lowry Park Zoo, the others to San Diego. You can read more about that flight in an excerpt at our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you work with animals, in zoos or outside, tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Let's go next to Heidi(ph), and Heidi's calling us from Denver.

HEIDI (Caller): Yes, hello, Neal, thank you so much for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

HEIDI: I do work at the Denver Zoo. I'm actually in the education department. So I don't work hands-on with the animals. But I just wanted to offer my perspective as someone who is on the inside of a zoo.

I am constantly struck, on a daily basis, by the incredible care and thought that goes into the way that our animals are taken care of at the Denver Zoo. We have a large department that focuses on what we call enrichment, which is encouraging natural behaviors, and so we see that on a regular basis.

We've had incredible breeding success, and, you know, just among the staff, I know that every last one of us are passionate about animals. We're committed. I'm a long-time vegetarian and very much of an animal-rights person myself.

At the same time, we know that these animals are not thriving in the wild. That's not the reality. And so many of the ones that we have at our zoo are ambassadors for their species. That's really how I see it.

And when I see a child engage with me about an animal, and they learn a new fact, I know that that's going to go well beyond that moment in time. They're going to tell their friends. They're going to tell their families. So I honestly feel like really, what I'm doing on a daily basis is securing a better world for animals through human understanding, which is our mission.

And so really, I feel that the work that we're doing is so very important to the conservation of species...

CONAN: I hear that, Heidi, but I also hear some ambivalence in there, that in a way, you wish there was no necessity for this zoo.

HEIDI: No, I wouldn't say that. I mean, I wish there was no necessity for us having to educate people about the importance of having animals in the wild, certainly, but when I know that we have animals we have a project working with the Panamanian golden frog, where we may actually be able to reintroduce the animals back into the wild.

So it's things like that, where we serve a very important purpose in terms of education and in terms of just inspiring that curiosity and that love for the animals that I know is going to make a difference in the lives of animals for the future.

CONAN: Well, Heidi, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. Good luck to you.

HEIDI: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. The ambivalence, though, you experience a lot of that, Tom French.

Mr. FRENCH: I did. I agree with what Heidi said, and the keepers that I met, really dedicated, passionate, caring staff who just, they had such commitment to those animals and worked so hard to make their lives as fulfilled as possible.

And yet, many of them privately would talk about how, in fact, they did wish that they could just take them back to the wild, but they recognized that they recognized that there's some moral complexity to working inside a zoo, to working with animals in captivity, and that you could do everything possible to make that experience as fulfilling as possible for the animal and as good for the humans who come to see them as possible, but that ultimately, it was still a very morally complex endeavor.

And they, a lot of them, were constantly asking themselves questions about, okay, I'm trying to do this. Is it working? Is there more that we can do? How can we make that experience as good as possible for the animals?

CONAN: In terms or reintroduction, some of this complexity is portrayed in the story you tell of the golden tamarin, the species that was almost wiped out because it was so beautiful, hunted in the wild and then reintroduced into the wild, mostly from stocks at zoos.

Mr. FRENCH: Yeah, that was in some ways a real success story for zoos in that a consortium of American zoos, working through the Smithsonian and the National Zoo, worked with the Brazilian government to reintroduce tamarins that were born into captivity and then reintroduce them back into the wild to try to get that population in the wild back up. And they've had some success there. They still have a problem that the habitat there is being burned and chopped down, but there are other species.

At Lowry Park Zoo, one of the big success stories has been manatees. Lowry Park Zoo has a manatee hospital and rehab center, and they bring in injured or ailing manatees from the wild. And then they have medical tanks, and they have surgery, very, very experienced staff that knows how to work with manatees who are willing to work with, say, abandoned baby manatees through the night, feeding them, doing their best to nurture them back to health because if they can get them healthy again, then ultimately they take them back to the wild and release them back into the waters where they were found. And that's the best case for a zoo.

And everyone at Lowry Park really is happy about that part of the zoo's work. So sometimes, there's success stories. Other times, it's more difficult.

There's been some efforts to reintroduce orangutans into Sumatra and Borneo, and some of the orangutans that they've tried to take back to the forest don't even know how to climb the trees or don't even know what to do. They refuse to go back into the wild. So it's a very complex venture.

CONAN: Sharon's(ph) on the line from Corvallis in Oregon.

SHARON (Caller): Yes, hi. I've been listening to your program, and I spent my whole life as an animal health technician, working with veterinarians. And about 10 years ago, I started working for large-bird, parrot-breeding operation.

And we run into the same problem. Many of the birds that we raise, we are saving them from extinction, because, as has been pointed out, their habitat is being destroyed at a max rate.

But on the other hand, you know, we raise them for the pet trade. And if you've worked with parrots, they take an unbelievable hold on your soul. They sometimes they feel like little people in feathers.

And keeping them in captivity is a real double-edged sword. It you know, you want to send them back to the wild, but you can't, not under the, you know, present circumstances.

CONAN: Right.

SHARON: But we run into the same problem of how do we make their life as comfortable and rewarding, you know, during their lives and keep them as happy as possible.

And there are some people who are working with really endangered species, like the spitz(ph) macaw, the thick-billed parrot in Arizona, I believe it is, that are working on: A, keeping the breed from going extinct; and two, to reintroduce them in the wild.

The thick-billed parrot situation, I'm not sure that it's still going. I haven't checked up on it in a few years, but they're trying to get to the point where they can reintroduce the thick-billed parrot back into the United States down in Arizona.

So it is, it's a double-edged sword. We keep them from going extinct, but we pay for it with our own emotions, and it's a fine balancing act.

CONAN: Balancing act is a good way to put it, Sharon. You describe an experience that some people overwhelmed when they go into an exhibit at the Lowry Park Zoo of lorikeets.

Mr. FRENCH: They go in, and the lorikeets approach them because they want little bits of nectar that they're given in little cups, and they land on your shoulders and on your head, and they have this machine-gun kind of whirring sound of their wings as they fly.

And I saw more people get freaked out among the lorikeets than with any of the other species. It was kind of funny because not funny but just interesting that these little, beautiful birds, who aren't aggressive, can just freak people out because they get swarmed a little bit because they're hungry.

CONAN: Lorikeets, I assume, are relatives of parakeets?

Mr. FRENCH: You know, I think so.

CONAN: Okay.

SHARON: They're considered a psittacine, which is a parrot.

CONAN: Okay.

SHARON: They have a parrot-type beak, but they feed on nectar and fruit, rather than seeds and nuts and vegetables, like most parrots eat.

CONAN: Sharon, we're glad we had you for the expertise.

SHARON: Well, I wanted to put in my two cents because it really is a fine balancing act, and as your guest said, a lot of people who work with these animals, we pay for it.

CONAN: You write about the burnout factor, Thomas French, that these people aren't paid very much in the first place and don't necessarily stay very long.

Mr. FRENCH: A lot of times they don't. It tends to be zookeeping tends to be a young person's profession, Neal, because they're not paid a lot. Their credit card balances go up.

It's very physical, strenuous, exhausting work. It's dangerous. And again, they're paid just, very often, not much more than minimum wage. And so there tends to be a lot of turnover because zoos know that they don't have to pay the keepers very much because every person who leaves, and there's a new opening, there's always going to be 20 applicants or more because so many people love to work with animals. So there's such a demand for this job that zoos kind of can take advantage of that.

But those people, they're very into it. They do it they give everything they can, and at a certain point, a lot of them have to just, for financial reasons, have to walk away.

CONAN: Let's go next to Tracy(ph), Tracy with us from Sacramento.

TRACY (Caller): Hi there, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

TRACY: I'm going out immediately and getting this book. I think I'm going to love it. I was an alligator wrestler, and I worked in the circus back in Florida in the '90s, and I was late teens, early 20s.

You know, I wanted that excitement, and I didn't put a lot of thought into the exploitation factor. And I did that for a few years, and it sort of dawned on me slowly and then like a bang that - it was something my father had said. He said, you remember, you're an animal too. And I thought about. I said, you know, we are. We're animals. I'm here kind of exploiting. There were some mistreatment going on. And it wasn't the education - you know, I was told that you're going to educate people by being an alligator wrestler, and that really - people wanted to see, you know, if I was going to get my hand bitten off or something probably more they wanted to learn about the alligators.

But - and since then, I mean, I'm almost 40 now, it's just been creeping up that there's so much exploitation that we throw upon animals, and we forget that we are animals, too, you know? We're not put in - it doesn't seem that they exploit us. It seems that, unfortunately, we do it to them. And now, everything - we're so immersed in the culture that I think that maybe a book like this would be great because somebody can get a - seems like an unbiased perspective and I hope a lot of people look at this book.

CONAN: Well, I suspect you may have had some experience with this, Tracy. Thomas French talks about the most misbehaved animals at the zoo are clearly the human display.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TRACY: Oh, great. Yeah. I'm going to love this book. I hope I don't grow to dislike humans from it but, you know, I'll try to maintain an unbiased perspective as well.

CONAN: As it says in all the bird books when you're trying to figure out which plumage goes with which species, individuals vary. I think that goes with humans too.

TRACY: You're right. You're right. I can't do too much finger-wagging but - and I don't want to be holier than thou, but I think - I really do think that - and I think you're talking about bunny huggers. I have a tendency to do that too. I think humans also try to look - we only see things from the human perspective. And so, you know, like, we talk to babies, oh, little baby, little baby. Then when we see an animal, we do the same and, you know, you see people that have their dogs sitting next to them and eating dinner with them. And the dog probably just, you know, I just want to be a dog. I don't need to be a person. You know, I think animals just - they just - if you could get into their minds, they'd probably say, let me be who I am. I don't need to be a human.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much and good luck if you go back to gator wrestling.

TRACY: No, thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Thomas French, that attraction - there's one point in the book where you described the attractions of a tiger cub with both that cuddle factor, that incredible oh-gee factor, the baby factor, but also the knowledge that what that cub would become.

Mr. FRENCH: Yes. You know, you - I got to hold a tiger cub, not at a zoo but I was interviewing a vet who'd worked with a tiger at the zoo and he was foster caring for some baby tigers. So I got to hold a tiger cub to describe what that's like and how different it is. And one of the things that's just so different is that you're holding this animal that is so beautiful and, frankly, is very cute and is...

(Soundbite of guest making meow sound)

Mr. FRENCH: know, is making these noises at you. And there's this electricity about it because you realize that in a year, this animal -you wouldn't want to be alone in an enclosure with this animal because he or she could kill you. So there's that sense of that apex predator waiting to emerge from this very cuddly, small creature.

CONAN: We're talking with Thomas French about his book, "Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

Email from Leonard(ph). I recently went to Thailand and had the opportunity to ride an elephant and pet a tiger. As a totally blind person, this was a real fascinating experience.

Let's see if we can go next to Hogan(ph), Hogan with us from Athens, Ohio.

HOGAN (Caller): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Hi, Hogan.

HOGAN: How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

HOGAN: Good. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

HOGAN: I'm a primatologist. I study chimpanzees in the wild.


HOGAN: And I'm also a professor here at Ohio University. And my experience has been that if I hadn't seen apes in captivity at the San Diego Zoo when I was a child, I probably would have never gone into this profession and probably would have never worked towards the conservation of apes. So I live out the paradox that Mr. French is talking about pretty much every day of my life knowing this.

But then, when I go to a zoo and watch apes in a zoo, particularly these megafauna charismatic species that you guys were talking about, so many of them are also really social and require a lot of that enrichment that one of the former callers was talking about...

CONAN: Sure.

HOGAN: ...that they just are limited and sometimes just can't get enough of in a zoo. And so it's ironic to me in some ways. I take my children to the zoo. They love it. They love the animals. The whole time, I'm sort of thinking, oh, man. I just wish you guys could be out in the wild, grooming each other and hanging out.

CONAN: Yet life is not always peaches and cream out in the wild.

HOGAN: Oh, no, absolutely not. The chimps I study sometimes have a rough go of it. That's for sure. And one of the big problems is the, of course, habitat loss and their ecosystems being endangered.

And so I know - I work - continue to work with a lot of zoos that do a lot of really good work there. They're doing a lot of great conservation work. But at the same time, you know that that social factor just isn't there for a lot of the animals. And a lot of those are the animals that the zoos are relying on to bring in patrons every year.

CONAN: Sure, because they're - well, Thomas French, one of the most compelling stories you tell in the book is about a chimpanzee named Herman.

Mr. FRENCH: Thanks. Herman is one of the most interesting individuals I've ever had a chance to report and write about. This chimp was born in Africa in the wild, saw his mother killed in front of him, was taken into human custody as a pet with a human family. And then when his human - and his family loved him, taught him how to eat at a table, how to put him in human clothes, treated him in many ways like a human child.

Then as he got a little older, he approached adolescence, zoo - chimps can become very dangerous as adults. So he - to protect this family, this American named Ed Schultz, donated Herman to Lowry Park Zoo, where he lived for more than 30 years, first at the bad old zoo and then at the new transformed zoo. And he was just such an interesting person individual see, I think of him as a person, I'm sorry an interesting individual because his time among humans, as you say at the opening of the segment, had led him to sort of be - have this very serious identity crisis where he wasn't attracted to chimp females, he was attracted to human females, especially blondes in tank tops.

And he didn't know who or what he was. And yet he had so many other qualities that his keepers loved. He was a good listener. He was kind in animal terms. He was really a complex individual.

CONAN: Herman's story is told, and many other stories are told in "Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives." Thomas French is the author and he joined us today from the studios of Georgia Public Radio in Atlanta. Thanks, Thomas French, very much.

Mr. FRENCH: Neal, thank you so much.

CONAN: And I want to thank Hogan for that phone call from Athens, Ohio, as well. Coming up, a viewer's guide to the Tour de France. Loren Mooney demystifies the race for us and tells us if there's any chance of a Lance Armstrong comeback. Stay with us for that.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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