Hello to Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley, author and photographer of Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Thank you both for answering some questions today for us about this important new title.
1. What inspired you to write this book, Patricia?
When my niece was in fifth grade, she told me about a persuasive essay she had to write on zoos. The information the teacher gave the class was almost all anti-zoo and as the mother of a zookeeper, I knew she didn’t have all the facts. Granted, not all zoos have high standards, but the scientific inquiry and conservation projects sponsored by AZA-member zoos educate visitors, promote the captive breeding and reintroduction of endangered species into the wild, and bring their sophisticated lab know-how to the field to preserve wildness. Those were the kinds of conservation efforts I wanted to share with young readers.
2. There are so many zoos working on conservation programs. How did you select the ones that appear in this book?
The zoo animals and the scientists that appear in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue meet a specific set of criteria. First, they are from zoos willing to cooperate with us as a creative team. Not all zoos are willing to work on outside commercial ventures, and some charge hefty fees to interview their scientists. Others charge steep licensing fees to photograph or write about animals in their collections.
Second, the zoos had to be large enough to employ scientists conducting original research. Many small zoos do not have laboratories and do not have the resources for research.
Third, the animals and the scientists’ work had to match one of the three ways zoos promote conservation: education, captive breeding and reintroduction, and studying wildlife in its native habitat. These three pieces form the backbone of the structure in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.
And lastly, we wanted to write about animals that kids could connect to emotionally. In the zoo world, they are called charismatic megafauna.
When we think about all the pieces that had to fall into place to make this book work, we feel like we achieved a minor miracle!
3. The photographs are engaging and create an intimate look at these species. What challenges did you face, Annie, in taking them for the book?
The two biggest challenges were time and budget. When you hold a book in your hands, you do not often think about how it went from imagination to creation. Patti and I traveled to all three locations to interview the scientists. In addition, I needed to photograph the animals, labs, breeding facility, and any and all locations and activities that would complement the publication. We have to pay for our travel, hotel, meals, car rentals, etc. and we had to choose a time when we both could go around the dates the zoos/scientists gave to us.
When we visited Colorado, we were caught in a blizzard and didn’t even know if we were going to be able to make it to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo or some of our other planned shoot locations. We literally traveled to the zoo in a blizzard. Lucky for us, the black-footed ferrets were inside the facility and we were able to make our appointment!
I grew up at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. So for me, I was facing extreme self-pressure to be able to document the story of the black rhinos and Dr. Rachel Santymire. I had no idea what kind of access we would have, nor if the weather would cooperate. I allotted for 5 days of shooting and in the end really had 2 days as weather interfered. In order to photograph/film the rhinos, you have to wait for them to be outside. So I stood with my camera observing and documenting the rhinos. They like heat and in the week I was in Chicago the weather went from 80 degrees to 40 degrees overnight and so the rhinos decided to stay inside. Fortunately, Rachel and the entire team were incredible to work with. They were very patient. To get a great, memorable shot you must know behavior of the animal and their character. This comes with time, asking questions, understanding the subject, and the right lighting. Being able to predict your shot helps as well. The trainer helped me photograph Maku by keeping him close with some treats. There is also a lot of waiting. Rhinos mark territory with urine so I found myself waiting to photograph/film until they would relieve themselves. I also had to wait until Maku needed to pooh. Rachel’s chapter is called Feces Saves Species, so I felt the need to capture Maku pooping and his trainer taking samples for Dr Santymire in the lab. You asked me about challenges, I guess none of the documentation part I really consider a personal challenge. I love being in the field, meeting the animals, figuring out how to capture their character and everything about creating an image. I guess another challenge was to shoot both photo/video as we like to create a trailer and other bonus materials to accompany the books we create together.
I travel quite a bit for my work and made sure to visit every zoo I could that had the species from our book. In Australia at the Melbourne Park Zoo they have a phenomenal orangutan exhibit and have huge educational outreach to pressure companies to use only environmentally friendly (aka orangutan friendly) palm oil. A few of the images from my time spent at the Melbourne Zoo made the cut which made me really happy. It is not one zoo making a difference, it is all zoos working together to educate and inspire the often-unknowing public about the environmental issues the animals face.
As Patti wove the scientists’ stories together, I spent my days at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle photographing/filming tigers, lions, penguins, zebras, hippos, and so many other animals. I live about 20 minutes away from the zoo, so by visiting daily, I was able to get to know the animals and their behavior. I talked to many of the keepers to find out when their animals were most active, or when they would be giving public presentations as they always plan those around behavior. Storytelling happens on many levels and being able to complement this book with images to take the reader into the labs, breeding facilities, and so much more is so much fun! Whatever challenges Patti and I faced on the road, they were met with laughter…and that’s why we are such a great team!
4. Did the two of you research and travel together? If so, can you share any outtakes — fun, or challenging?
When we collaborated on Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Annie traveled with the scientists on board the research vessel, the New Horizon. Patti entered the picture after the expedition had returned to dry land. As Patti wrote, Annie clarified aspects of the expedition during the writing process, and of course, worked with the editorial team in choosing the best photos to tell our story.
For Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, we worked together from the very beginning. The proposal that Patti wrote for editor Carol Hinz (Millbrook Press/Lerner) morphed from sales document to planning document. What questions did Patti need to ask in interviews? What shots did Annie need to tell our story visually?
In the three trips to the three zoos, we had a fabulous time, a lot of laughs, some frustrations, and several adventures. Most of all we learned a lot about what it takes to work together so Patti gets the best quotes and Annie gets the best shots. We’re looking forward to our next book together!
And you bet we have outtakes! How about a massive March blizzard in Denver that closed the road to the National Black-footed Ferret Center in northern Colorado, and forced us to reschedule. Annie has photos of Patti scraping thick snow off our rental car. Or how about the back story to the photograph of Maku (the black rhino at Lincoln Park Zoo) on the book’s cover. As Annie squeezed her camera lens through the bars of his enclosure, Maku turned and charged. Annie fell backwards, and we dissolved into a fit of giggles.
5. What was the most surprising thing you learned researching this book?
The three scientists in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue—Meredith, Jeff, and Rachel—were all inspired by reading about and participating in conservation projects as kids. They, in turn, hope that kids who read about their adventures will be inspired to follow in their footsteps.
Thank you both for taking the time to share Zoo Scientists to the Rescue with us. It is sure to be a hit with readers when it releases this fall. Is there a curriculum guide for teachers you can share?
Thank YOU for participating in our blog tour! We are working with grad students at San Diego State University to prepare the curriculum guide. It should be done the last week of Sept. We can send you a link when it’s ready.
We also have videos posted on YouTube you can link and share for more behind the scenes look at what we did during our travels. 😊