Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Zooborns by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland

You have to make sure you have a high tolerance for cuteness before ever tackling Zooborns (Simon & Schuster) a book that introduces readers to “The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World’s Zoos and Aquariums.”

In many ways, Zooborns is an amazing book. They have you from hello with the cover, where an adorable baby Fennec Fox looks charmingly and directly into the camera. When we rifle through the book to find out more about him, we discover that those giant ears help cool things down in the dessert, where his kind are from. We also learn about his environmental status. “Least concern,” we are told. Other species are not so lucky.

Take baby Tasmanian Devils Bunyipp and Deitt, whose home is the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. On four pages of photos we see the tiny weirdly charming marsupials in various poses, and learn that they are endangered because, since the late 1990s, “a mysterious transmissible cancer epidemic has devastated the wild Tasmanian devil population.” The Taronga zoo, we’re told, is breeding them on the mainland as a sort of genetic backup plan should the wild population’s numbers suffer too greatly from the disease.

Zooborns is a marvelous book: more than the sum of its parts. You are first floored by the cuteness of all of these animal babies. Babies are always cute, right? And even the ones that are sort of funny looking have that baby cuteness. It’s enjoyable looking at these sweet portraits. But as you leaf through, bits of carefully included information leaks out. And it’s sad to see how many species are endangered or threatened; interesting to feel relief when you note that a species is of “Least Concern.”

Zooborns hits all the right notes. The cuteness factor is pretty much irresistible, but it’s great to learn something about these animals. Great also to be part of the solution through spreading awareness about breeding programs and to support conservation efforts in the wild.

Though Zooborns would be enthusiastically recieved by all ages, a companion book, ZooBorns! (Beach Lane Books), is aimed at younger readers. Buying them both seems like a terrific option: ten per cent of proceeds goes to support the Association of Zoos and Aquariaum’s Conservation Endowment Fund. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor of January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat in the North Pacific.

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