The Enid Blyton Society
The Zoo Book
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Book Details...

First edition: 1924
Publisher: George Newnes
Illustrator: F.W. Bond
Category: Non-series Non-fiction
Genre: Animals
Type: Non-Fiction Books

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Review by Terry Gustafson

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This of course is one of the Enid Blyton 'Educational Books although there's education aplenty in most of her writings. There are lots of black and white photographs featuring animals and birds and reptiles that look as if they were taken in Noah's Ark. That's Enid Blyton's name for the London Zoo and who hasn't been there? Surely most Londoners would have visited at least once, and many millions from other places in Britain and abroad have also trod the walk.

The first chapter gives a little background such as the Zoo's layout and the philosophy behind caging animals of which Enid Blyton seems to be generally in favour but not in the case of a Wild Cat. Feeding time is important as it is to all EB Fans and you might be interested to learn that hyaenas (notice the ae) have no manners at all they simply "gulp their food savagely." The Zoo 'atmosphere' is described in typical Enid Blyton fashion, and now we are ready to learn more about the animals in general.

The Sea-Lions are fed at half past four and are a treat to watch because they are so adept at catching fish thrown to them by the keeper. EB includes a curious anecdote about Albert, one of the sea lions, who ate a truckload of fish when his keeper parked it in the enclosure. "How Albert could have swallowed all that number of fish is a mystery, but he did." Well-meaning visitors often give animals the wrong kind of food, and Enid Blyton relates how she watched a schoolboy feeding an ostrich with oranges that stuck in the bird's gullet! "They stuck out like balls all the way down its long neck!" she writes. The boy took out his camera for a shot but was too slow the Ostrich had trotted away.

There's a very interesting account of the ways and means animals are caught and they vary from chasing after herds until one or two become tired and can be snatched up, to the old baited cage technique where food is scattered inside for baboons and other animals to follow the trail until a stick is pulled or a spring-loaded gate suddenly snaps shut and traps the creature inside. Pits are used as well to catch larger animals and lassoing isn't ruled out when horses are on the run. Some (in fact I would say many) creatures have been hurt and even maimed when eager hunters have hastened to fill their quotas and there are several ways it can happen long journeys, thirst, lack of milk for younger animals as well as heat, all play their part out there on the African veldt. Imagine the misery of a lion or tiger being carried away for miles and miles in a tiny cage or box. More descriptions of odd things that have taken place when animals are being collected make the second chapter a very lively one.

Keepers have 'secrets' it seems. We're told about the problems they come up against every now and again so the 'secrets' are more to do with techniques gained over years of caring for livestock. Techniques such as including a larger more aggressive monkey in a collection of smaller ones so that they are kept on their toes and don't laze around too much. Exercise is important. There are more species of animals and birds than we think have you met a Widgeon? No, it's not a misspelling - Widgeons exist and so do Tapirs. I knew what a Tapir was but not a widgeon and, just for the record, tapirs can get mumps!

In chapter #4, Enid Blyton describes the various apes and monkeys and whereas most people would be familiar with three of the four species of apes, they might not so knowledgeable about the Gibbon.

It flies through the air with the greatest of ease,
Like a daring young man on a flying trapeze ... (only fifty or a hundred times better)

It would be well worth hunting out a few videos of Gibbons so that these aerialists of the canopy can be viewed and applauded. Whether or not this particular ape could beat a Spider Monkey at its own game is arguable, but for sheer poetry and motion, the Gibbon can claim any prize. As for the Orang-Utan, I'm sure there are still a few people around who don't know that his name means 'A Man of the Woods.' Mandrill baboon? They're familiar but I'd never even heard of a 'Guenon, of which there are several kinds - the most common being the Green Monkey. These were popular with the organ grinders apparently, and here's another 'unknown' Mangabey! A "queer looking monkey" with white eyelids that show up markedly in a sooty-black face.

Polar Bears, Brown Bears, Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Sun Bears of India and China, they're all present and are described for the avid reader who is also treated to another anecdote involving Sam and Barbara who were at London Zoo for years. EB tells us candidly about these two bears that ate their cubs, and Barbara also supplied a few dangerous thrills when she escaped and led the keepers on a chase. Fortunately, mankind usually wins out when animals become untoward and she was finally recaptured. Read all about it!

The Big Cats are covered of course and the reason for their long whiskers is set out for us just as it would be a decade later in a nature series entitled 'Round the Year with Enid Blyton' (Autumn edition). Fascinating facts are revealed to us about the Lion and Tiger, Leopard, Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Lynx, Caracal, and Wild Cat and let it be said that Wild Cats in England are actually domestic cats either turned out of their home, or those that have simply wanted to get out and about to follow their natural instincts. "The real wild cat is rarely to be found" in Britain.

The Dog tribe is next with short descriptions and expected anecdotes. The Jackal and Fox and possibly the Dingo should be familiar names to most readers and there's an interesting few paragraphs about the Hyena that mentions the tremendous power of its bite " ... with one crunch they will swallow a bone an inch thick." This is probably why even the biggest cats can be a little wary of them. In the 1920's it was "not such a very, very long time ago since there were wolves in England," so there you are straight from the author's mouth. No wolves left. Fairy tales can seem more real when we learn that "mothers used to frighten their naughty children by saying the wolf would get them unless they were good."

The 'Horned and the Hoofed' includes an animal that " ... most people know the best ... " which of course is the reindeer because Santa Claus supposedly uses this species to pull his sleigh along. The Springbok, Gnu, Eland, Elk, Chamois and Ibex are dealt with and if the Gibbon is Master of the Trees, then the Ibex and one or two other breeds of goat could be labeled Masters of the Mountains. They have extraordinary powers that allow them to traverse sheer cliff-faces that would give us the Willies. Watch a few of these animals and you'll get some idea of how 'Snowy' was able to go where no man has gone before.

Chapter #9 is called "Some Monarchs of the Wild" and it touches on the Elephant of course a species now threatened by people who commit murder to obtain their highly prized tusks for the manufacture of ivory products. What Zoo wouldn't have an elephant? Well, I can think of only one at the moment but there may be others. London Zoo being one of the foremost has to possess an Elephant and Enid Blyton makes reference to 'Elephant's Walk' where the pachyderm paces up and down with a "crowd of children on its back." 'Lukhi' and 'Indarini' are mentioned and perhaps older Blyton Fans will remember these names especially the former, because this Elephant made headlines after bolting with her saddle still strapped on. EB tells us that she took off because her surroundings had been altered and it seems there are still marks on a tunnel she ran through where the saddle smashed against the roof. We're told - "You can still see the marks, although the roof has been repainted now." Whether or not that applies after ninety or so years have passed will require another visit. What other Monarchs are there? Hippopotamus definitely, but there's also the Rhinoceros, Wild Boar, and Kangaroo. Boars used to live in the forests of England but with the advent of cities and the cutting down of trees, they appear to be no more. Kangaroos are the biggest animals in Australia so I suppose they could be called 'Monarchs.'

Biggest, Roundest, Shortest, Tallest! We like the extremes and naturally the Giraffe, while not the 'biggest' animal, is certainly considered the tallest and everyone knows what one of those looks like. We're also familiar with Zebras, but would you recognize a Llama? Gnu? Bactrian Camel? We're told that 'Dromedaries' is the name given to camels used for riding although I'm sure the two-humped ones are also saddled up occasionally - and there's a picture (Page#60) of a fine specimen with its keeper outside the llama House that has a sign with a date. I thought it might be 1938 but of course that's impossible so it has to be 1838. London is timeless.

Chapter#11 "No animal written in this chapter, except the shark, is a fish." OK, we have Seals and Sea-Lions and the anecdote tells us about one of the latter that climbed out of his enclosure and ended up in the Polar-Bears' pool where he was bitten to death. The Walrus is familiar and there's also the Sea-Elephant, which can be twenty feet (6x metres+) long together with a "curious trunk." The largest animal that has ever existed on this Earth is naturally the Whale but don't tell me they have one of those at London Zoo. We do however get several interesting paragraphs about this leviathan. Porpoises and Dolphins are also included, as are Beavers and Otters. Speaking of Otters, readers may remember Susan and Richard's exciting night with their friend Zacky when they spied on Tek, one of the "most playful creatures in the animal world."

Snakes have their chapter of just over three pages and we're told that Britain has one poisonous example - namely the Viper or 'Adder' as it is called. Beware! EB tells us they are found in warm sunny places on heaths and moors but won't cause harm if they're not disturbed ... and they don't 'sting!' Luckily the more lethal snakes such as Cobras are non-existent in Britain and EB's further remark brings to mind the inherent cruelty of Nature:

"The snakes are fed on Friday afternoons but I have never been to see them fed. I do not think I should like to see a snake swallowing a duck or a goat whole and watch the animal slowly going down its neck and body I think it would be a horrid sight, don't you." I've seen this and she's right.

There are armoured animals like the Hedgehog, Armadillo, and Turtle amongst others and even Crocodiles and Ant-Eaters enter this category. Crocodiles are well presented to us all when herds of animals desire to cross a river in those nature documentaries seen on the television that display the horrific Croc vs Wildebeest episodes as part of the natural process. The Alligator belongs to South America - it has a shorter, broader head and more uneven teeth than a Crocodile. Want to see something queer? Go to the Crocodile cage at the zoo, grab one, and force open it's mouth. These creatures would be pretty useless as gourmets because they have no tongues! "This gives its mouth a strange and wicked look, and indeed, crocodiles and alligators are not pleasant creatures," EB tells us.

We now enter Jack Trent's territory. Parrots, Eagles, Owls, Vultures, Condors, Penguins, Pelicans, Flamingoes and one of the most elegant birds of all the Peacock. There follows descriptions of the various birds and it goes without saying that Eagles can be found in Britain up in the highlands of Scotland. The Rhea of South America and the Emu of Australia are cousins of the Ostrich and there's a photograph of an Ostrich farm in New Zealand. Well, that's news to me because I'd always though Ostrich farms were a fairly recent innovation in such a far away land ... Seventies or Eighties I would have guessed! Now, regarding the Peacock let's get it right. Enid Blyton tells us that for one of the most beautiful sights in the world, go and stand opposite the cage of the Peafowl. One might think there is a male and female Peacock but of course that's incorrect. It's 'Peafowl' collectively, 'Peahen' for the female, and 'Peacock' for the male.

Chapter #15 gives us a report on the Aquarium - something about which EB is very qualified to talk because on many occasions she has given us the rundown on how to make one and stock it with all kinds of creatures although the Zoo has a seawater aquarium as well containing such creatures as crabs, lobsters, shell fish and the rest. Information is included about Goldfish and we also learn about Eels, Octopi (plural for 'octopus), and even Siamese Fighting Fish, those aggressive little freshwater creatures that often attack each other. One that we think might be the "most interesting of all" looks like the Knight on a chessboard. You've guessed it the Sea-Horse. They often travel in pairs, gliding around upright and it's interesting to note that Father Sea-Horse has a pouch in which he keeps the family eggs.

The final chapter brings us an insight into some of the animals that have won recognition and fame over the years those such as 'Jumbo' who came to the Zoo in1865 and carried children around for sixteen years. He even had a wife called Alice, so there we have Jumbo and Alice Elephant plying their trade in the Zoological Gardens until such time as Jumbo became a little restless and troublesome. Phineas Barnum that great American showman, ended up purchasing Jumbo and starring the elephant in his circus but a few years later the poor animal died after being hit by a train! Alice, who also went to America, became a widow. It's worth looking up some details about these animals that have won a place in peoples' hearts there's Consul the chimpanzee who came on stage fully dressed to have a meal and ring for the waiter. He'd pour a drink from a bottle and light up his cigarette for a few puffs before going over to his bed and undressing (hide your eyes) to snore away for a while before rising to clean his teeth and ride a tricycle. There was Sandy the Orang-Utan and Mickey another chimpanzee, ... So they came and So they went but, to end, there's a reference to the 'Liger.' Apparently a famous cricketer called Ranji gave one of these to the Zoo and the unusual name is bestowed on the progeny resulting from a Lion's marriage to a Tiger.

What a combination!


All the animals mentioned are not necessarily at the London Zoo but a good portion would be represented.

The Enid Blyton-style descriptions and information about animals is not the only attraction. Various anecdotes sprinkled throughout the volume give you double your moneys worth.

#01: How the Zoo began! Well, far back in the nineteenth century nearly a hundred years ago, the first Zoological Society of London was formed and "in four year's time it will be the hundredth anniversary of the Zoo" that opened on April 27th, 1828. Bringing things up to date, the place would now have existed for over 185 years and this hints at the incredible age some of the English institutions have attained.

#01: The proper name for London Zoo according to EB is 'The Garden of the Zoological Society of London.' You can become a 'Fellow' and attend meetings by paying a subscription, and as our author explains, 'Fellow' includes women.

#02: 'Hyenas' in the book is spelt with an 'a' hard up against the 'e' and although the 'ae' principal can be understood I've never seen it applied to 'Hyena' before. Possibly it's out of fashion because 'encyclopaedia' now seems to have dispensed with it.

#6: Thought I'd heard of most animals but recently a Caracal made its presence felt. I must have seen the photograph before because the book was obviously read on gaining possession but sometimes pictures can fail to register. A 'Caracal' is an animal that looks very much like a Lynx.

#07: Anecdote: A Norwegian story tells of a district that had plenty of wolves in it until they all left because a telegraph wire had been put up and they didn't' like it. It seems that wolves are not all that brave, unless they're hungry.

#08: 'Snowy' for the outsiders was a baby goat adopted temporarily by an animal 'Whiz' named Philip who was introduced to Enid Blyton Fans in a book entitled 'The Island of Adventure.' Snowy showed his prowess in 'Mountain' of the same series.

#10: If you put a giraffe beside a whale would the whale be higher, and if it was, could the whale be described as the tallest animal in the world? Don't think so. 'Largest' yes, but I doubt if it would qualify as the 'tallest.'

#10: Zebra steak was lauded as the tastiest meat in the world by some explorer who wrote about it in his African meanderings.

#11: The Sea-Lion feeding as described in the book stands up to my own experience when watching a session at the zoo in Basle. A keeper, who was obviously well rehearsed for the display gave the crowd an excellent performance with his talented troupe.

#11: 'Tek' and his family are the otters that Susan and Richard met in "Enid Blyton's Animal Lover's Book.'

#12: Does a snake have a neck?

#14: Jack Trent is a bird-crazy lad who became 'Jack Cunningham' after his adoptive mother remarried. (cf: Enid Blyton's 'Adventure' series).

#14: EB's very entertaining account of a small boy's confrontation with a Golden Eagle can be read in the final chapter of 'Shadow the Sheepdog' where Johnny with the help of his dog actually killed one. Justifiably it seems, because the bird was threatening some lambs on his dad's farm.

#15: More information about eels can be obtained from - 'Hedgerow Tales' by Enid Blyton.

One of the Zoo's crowning moments for visitors, especially those with children, was the feeding of the Lions. Why it was so important is not hard to guess even though one of the keepers just opened a little hatch and thrust an enormous hunk of meat into the enclosure. The lions became quite stimulated however, thus supplying their audience with something to write home about. These days we've heard of practices that might be labeled even more exciting, or disgusting, depending on your proclivities - this occurs in one or two Asian countries where a van rolls up and after the rear section has lifted, a live cow slides down to be set upon by a pack of tigers.

Gerald Durrell the famous animal trapper, author, conservationist, and founder of the Jersey Zoological Park spoke about the caging of wild creatures and defended his position by explaining that the captives are protected in a safe environment. He went on to demonstrate how an animal when released from its cage took a good look round before returning to its 'home' voluntarily. If the enclosure is roomy he might have an argument. Having said that, I've observed parrots sitting in small cages with a perch and little else. What a life that would be, but perhaps an animal psychologist would say it's all right although I'm sure a human would go crazy in such an environment.

London Zoo also had a nest of wood ants behind glass when I visited! Truly a fascinating sight.

Kathleen Nixon has produced the inside cover pictures of a tiger stalking through the woods.

The good quality pictures number about fifty and are all black and white, which reflects the period when colour was rather an expensive addition for books and magazines. The newer editions have some tint. The frontispiece is of a 'Handsome Leopard' standing proudly on his rock. Other pics include a Chacma Baboon, American Bison, Eland, Elephant, Rhino, Lion and Tiger (of course), and even a Silvery Gibbon who looks Ready for Action. I wanted one of these primates for a pet but upon 'phoning the Customs Office for a discussion re the proposal, the heavy hand of Government Bureaucracy descended with an abrupt - "Not Permitted!"

Availability? Yes, the book is on sale if one looks around at the various sites and sifts the expensive from the less so. An edition of 'The Zoo Book' came out after this one with a Chimp on the cover as opposed to a Polar Bear.