A cool look at the OKC Zoo

Today I have the pleasure of featuring a different type of book on my blog!

SCBWI Oklahoma member Amy Dee Stephens writes fiction, but is also the author of two books on the Oklahoma City Zoo. I got a chance to look at her book recently, and it’s a must-see for anyone who has interest in animals, Oklahoma history, or a first-class zoo’s transformation through the years.

From the book’s description: What started as a small menagerie in 1902 officially became Oklahoma City Zoo in 1903. Journey through the second half century of its illustrious history in Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960–2013. Meet the staff and animals and explore the exhibits that propelled it from a third-class animal facility to one of the best zoos in the United States. In the 1960s, its animal population exploded as knowledge of animal care improved. The zoo soon assembled the largest-known collection of hoofed animals. Later, a rare mountain gorilla named M’Kubwa stole newspaper headlines, a third leopard escaped, and the zoo met its first cheetah babies. The opening of Aquaticus in the 1980s “brought the ocean to the prairie” in the form of a dolphin and sea lion show. Elephants, however, remain the queen attraction at the Oklahoma City Zoo. In 2011, the birth of the zoo’s first baby elephant baby, Malee, was a crowning achievement in its 110-year history.

Personally, I remember a lot of the changes that took place at the zoo, like when they built the Great EscApe when I was a kid, and the transformation of the big cat areas and new habitat for the elephants. It’s pretty dang great. If you’re in the area, you owe it to yourself to check out our zoo – and maybe pick up a copy of Amy’s books while you’re at it!

Amy was nice enough to share a press release with me about her newest book, including an informative Q&A that I enjoyed reading. Hope you do too!

Amy Dee Stephens

Amy Dee Stephens

Amy Dee Stephens announces the release of her second zoo history book,Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013. Journey through the second half-century of the zoo’s history and explore the staff, animals, and exhibits that propelled it from a third-class animal facility to tone of the best zoos in the United States.  Stephens, is the education supervisor and historian for the zoo.  Her previous book,Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959, covers the zoo’s first half century. 

Through text and over 250 photographs, learn how the zoo assembled the largest-known collection of hoofed animals in the 1960s.  The opening of Aquaticus in the 1980s brought the “ocean to the prairie” in the form of dolphin and sea lion shows.  Elephants, however, remained the queen attraction at the zoo, and in 2011, the bird of the zoo’s first baby elephant, Malee, was a crowning achievement in its 110-year history.
Zoo:  Why did you write this book?
book cover front 2014Amy: The zoo is such an interesting community-based institution—its story needed to be told. The publisher actually contacted me in the fall and asked that I write this volume because the first book was so successful.  I’d planned to write Part 2 someday, but that was good incentive to start. I initially planned on ending with year 2000 to round off the century, but they felt that visitors would enjoy the most current history.  Plus the zoo was coming off the major success of the elephant exhibit, and elephants are so important to our history—so the decision to write through the year 2013 was clear.  
Zoo: How long did it take to write the book?
Amy: I took off the entire month of November to work on it, and logged about 250 hours of research, writing and photo selection.  My first book took about 500 hours, but that was because the information from 100 years ago was harder to dig up, and the zoo didn’t yet have a historical archive.
Zoo:  How did you pick the stories to include? 
Amy:  I had to read thousands of newspaper articles and zoo newsletters to fully understand everything that happened over the last 50+ years.  I’ve worked here since 1998, so the recent years were easy to write because I basically lived it!
Zoo: How did you pick the photographs you used?
Amy: I went through about 20,000 images in the zoo’s archive, but many of the best photographs were from local newspapers.  The Daily Oklahoman had just donated their collection to the Oklahoma History Center and they were still unprocessed in boxes in the basement.  The staff let me go downstairs and search through those until I found 3 boxes of zoo pictures labeled “Parks, Lincoln Park.” I spent 2 days culling through those for the ones I needed.  
Zoo: Did any clear themes emerge through your research?
Amy: The influence of Zoological Society leaders like John Kirkpatrick and Byron Gambulos is profoundly clear.  In the 1960s, and 1970s, they directed the zoo both financially and foundationally.  During that time, the zoo separated from the parks department, established the public trust, and purchased large amounts of Lincoln Park land.  These decisions gave the zoo both space and freedom to further develop.  This, followed by the passage of the 1/8th cent sales tax in 1990, allowed the zoo to continually upgrade and improve.
Zoo:  Talk about the zoo changes that occurred from 1960 to the present…
Amy:  The 1950s “circus” attitude toward animals had almost disappeared at the starting point of this book.  All six zoo directors during this era were highly-motivated to keep up with the industry’s newest practices.  Some had more interest in research, others in marketing or exhibit-building, but in all cases, they were keeping an eye on the industry and saying, “Let’s do that!” Each one was an “animal person” who was very concerned about the state of wild animal populations—and conservation continues to be the growing mission of the zoo. 
Zoo:  In what ways is this book different from Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959?
Amy_5499Amy: During the writing of this book, I was extremely aware that this book would receive more scrutiny—because most of the people in this book are still alive. Over 200 people are mentioned, quoted or pictured, and many more deserved mention, but I had to be true to the goal of the book: to give a positive overview of the zoo’s history and represent favorite guest memories. Most of the information from the first book was “forgotten and rediscovered.” 
Zoo:  To whom is the book dedicated?
Amy: To Donna Mobbs, who has served as administrative assistant for 30 years, for five different zoo directors—you bet she’s had an influence on this zoo!  And to my Grandmother, Myrtle Davidson, who passed away in November while I was writing the book.  She was proud of me and I miss her.    
 About Amy: Amy Dee Stephens is the education supervisor and historian for the Oklahoma City Zoo. In 2011, she curated the opening of the zoo’s history museum, the Patricia and Byron J. Gambulos Zoozeum. Her previous book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902–1959, covers the zoo’s first half century. 
“Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013” published by Arcadia Press is available at the zoo’s gift shops, local bookstores, and online.
You can pick up your copy of Oklahoma City Zoo: 1960-2013 and Amy’s other zoo history book, Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959, on the Arcadia Press website.

1 thought on “A cool look at the OKC Zoo

  1. Pingback: Interview with Amy about “OKC ZOO: 1960-2013″ | AmyDeeStephens: On Writing

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