by Gerald Durrell
Once again this author delights and intrigues me. This book is about his first wildlife collecting trip- to Cameroon in Central Africa- with a colleague John Yealland, who specialized in birds. It starts off with what I found lacking in The Bafut Beagles, an introduction to what he was doing there and all the preparations necessary. Just as interesting as his descriptions of tracking and catching the wildlife are his accounts of travel into remote areas, encounters with native people, working to build cages, feed and tend to the creatures, some of which had never been kept in captivity before. Also his efforts to educate the public on how to bring him live birds and mammals without damaging them- stress and injury would do them in long before they made it back to England.
So many curious creatures Durrell found- the Calabar ground python whose head looks like its tail, the giant otter shrew (the internet tells me it is not a real shrew but a tenrec), the beautiful gaboon viper whose back is marked with a row of perfect rectangles, the rare and coveted angwantibo- a lemur not to be confused with the potto, the brush tailed porcupine which led him to a nasty encounter in a cave. Durrell crawled into a lot of caves in this book. In particular looking for bats but he founds lots of other wildlife in the dark. Also tromped around the thick forest after nightfall to catch nocturnal animals, and followed packs of dogs in the hope of catching a serval- he saw one close at hand but never caught one. The dogs several times tracked down giant monitor lizards instead. There are lots of monkeys mentioned, beautiful birds of many sorts, chameleons, great snakes and diminutive antelope. Last of all a chimpanzee named Chumley. I\’m sure I\’ve read about Chumley in one of his other books, probably it was Encounter with Animals? I was sad to read of his end in this one… Curiously, Durrell states in here that monkeys don\’t groom each other\’s fur in search of parasites or fleas, but to pick off salt dried on their skin from sweating. He once again mentioned the black-eared squirrel, but I\’m puzzled that none of the images I find of this animal show it with the greenish fur on its back that Durrell describes.
There\’s so much more. Description of the landscape and surroundings are very detailed. The book closes with a short account of his trip home on board ship with the collection. He took a lot of care over their health and handling, and only had a few losses. With relief at the end of the journey he finally saw the animals loaded onto zoo vans, headed for their new homes. It\’s nice there is a little index in the back listing all the species mentioned in the text. The ink illustrations by Sabine Bauer are lovely.
Rating: 4/5 238 pages, 238 1953