Chapter Three: Suzy

Across the Atlantic Ocean, far from the Hanover Zoo, an American zoo official was making plans. George Speidel was the director of the zoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Like many city zoos in the United States and Europe, the Milwaukee Zoo had been constructed in the early years of the twentieth century. At that time, the goal of most zoos was to display as many different kinds of animals as possible. Cages often were small to save space, and quite bare to make them easy to clean. Usually, there was room for only one of each kind of animal. Breeding wild animals in captivity did not seem very important. Most zoo officials at the turn of the century considered it easier and cheaper to replace animals that died with newly captured ones from the wild.

Fifty years later, some zoo directors felt differently. The traditional way of running a zoo seemed wrong to them. The public could learn little about animal behavior by watching an animal alone in a tiny, barred cement cage. Zoo animals often seemed unhappy, and many died at very young ages. And it seemed dishonest for zoo officials to promote conservation of animals in the wild while they continued to capture large numbers of wild animals for zoo displays.

Zoos would be better places for both people and animals, these zoo officials decided, if each zoo were to display fewer different kinds of animals but more individuals of each kind. Each pair or group of animals could be given enough space and the proper conditions to enable them to behave much as they would in the wild. Such an arrangement would encourage breeding, thereby reducing the need for zoos to capture animals from their natural habitats. It would also make zoo-going a more valuable educational experience for the public.

The only problem was money. It would be terribly expensive to modernize a fifty-year-old zoo, to turn tiny, dark cages into large, airy enclosures. Many of the old city zoos might have to be rebuilt from the ground up. That would cost a fortune, literally millions of dollars. Most zoo directors knew they could not raise so much money. If they wanted to improve conditions, they would have to proceed very slowly, one small step at a time.

George Speidel was fortunate. When Milwaukee County officials decided that the old zoo should be replaced, most of the people of Milwaukee agreed. Public money was voted to buy land and build a brand new zoo. The Zoological Society of Milwaukee County, a private organization that had always bought the animals for the Milwaukee Zoo, agreed to provide funds for new animals. Now, as planning and construction of the new zoo began, the Zoo Director had to decide just what kinds of animals should be in it.

Mr. Speidel was sure of one thing--the new zoo would have to show animals in breeding groups. Furthermore, George Speidel wanted the new zoo to specialize in breeding animals that were rarely kept or that rarely reproduced in captivity. Milwaukee already held one breeding record, for polar bears. Polar bears adjust well to captive conditions, and most zoos have always kept one or more. But even today the bears do not often breed in zoos, and when they do, the cubs often die. In 1919, a polar bear cub born in Milwaukee became the first captive-born member of its species to survive to adulthood. The Milwaukee Zoo continued to have success with breeding and raising these animals, and when the new zoo opened, every polar bear on display would be an animal born in Milwaukee.

The Zoo Director wanted to expand on that tradition so that someday, every animal in the Milwaukee Zoo would be a happy, healthy, captive-born creature who would breed and raise its own young. With that goal in mind, George Speidel set off on a tour of European zoos to find animals for the beautiful new zoo that was taking shape in Milwaukee.