About the stories

This website is based on a book that I published a few years ago of stories that I collected during my years as a keeper at the Brookfield Zoo. (Near Chicago in the U.S.) Some of the stories may (or may not) have happened to me or the keepers I worked with, while others I heard while visiting other zoos, attending conferences, etc.

My original inspiration for this collection came from reading a series of books by Jan Harold Brunvand, a professor of English at the University of Utah (now retired), who studies and collects “urban legends.” He has compiled these stories into a number of wonderful books such as “The Vanishing Hitchiker,” and “The Choking Doberman.” Reading those stories, particularly the one about an elephant and a Volkswagen at the St. Louis zoo, started me thinking about all of the zoo stories that I’d heard at work and from other keepers over the years. I began jotting down some notes, and before long had several pages filled. The result was a book and now this website.

All of the stories are supposedly true, although they no doubt have been embellished a bit over the years. Such is the nature of word-of-mouth stories. If you know of different versions please send them in. It will be especially interesting to see if the same, or similar, stories are told at multiple zoos.

This collection is intended to be good-natured fun, and I would hope that no one would take offense at anything in it. That said, keep in mind that keepers—like people in many other professions—often find humor in things that others may find unsettling or even offensive.

‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always stranger than fiction.
 George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

About me

I was fascinated with animals for as long as I can remember and always knew that I’d end up working with them one way or another. In college I never seriously considered majoring in anything besides biology even though I had no idea where it would take me. My first plan was to go into marine biology. Then one day it dawned on me that the nearest ocean was several thousand miles away, but there were two world-class zoos within a short drive.

I started my zoo career in the Children’s Zoo, working summers and breaks while I was in college. (Actually, I first spent a couple of summers in Public Service, renting strollers and blowing up balloons, but we don’t need to talk about that.) After graduation I was lucky to be considered for a seasonal position in the hoofstock section in the main zoo (Thanks, Gail!) which eventually turned full-time. I spent the next ten years working in the imprecisely-named Hog Barn (Peccaries are not pigs! Don’t make me come over there!) caring for Grevy’s zebras, Congo buffalo, collared peccaries, Siberian ibex, nilgai and bushbuck.

Although I no longer work at the zoo, I remember those years fondly and still keep in touch with many of the keepers I knew there. I even married one of them. I had thought for years of republishing the book, which has been out of print for quite some time, to make it available to a new generation of keepers, but never managed to find the time. But now, with the prevalence of the internet, a website seemed like the way to go.

I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I have. Please send in some more!

John Stoddard
john@zoo-stories.net