Tag: Animals Nonfiction

by G. Neri

A true story, written by the protagonist’s cousin. Gail was a horse trainer who followed unconventional methods- she believed that horses shouldn’t be run in races until well over two years old, to allow their bodies to be stronger and fully developed to handle the strain. She also objected to drugging horses, all too common in the racing world sadly. When she found a horse with a lot of promise, she became his part owner and worked hard to train him for his first race. But the original partner divvied up his shares, so there were more votes against her, and all the other owners wanted to run him too early, push him too hard. Against her protests and better judgement, the horse was entered into his first race before she felt he was ready. He sustained a minor injury that could turn into something worse- and the other owners insisted on running him again, foregoing the rest a veterinarian recommended (who then proffered her drugs that would keep him performing in spite of the pain). And that was part of the problem- this horse loved to run, was so eager to be on the track and go.

She was worried it would destroy him, that his legs would break or he would die on the track. So in what she felt was the horse’s best interest, she took him from the barn and moved him to a hidden location. This without the other owners’ approval- but of course they’d been racing him without her approval. She was charged with theft, and battled it out in the courts with the co-owners for years, first having a public attorney who took her side, then having to study up on law and defend herself in the end.

It worked out well for the horse, he did get the rest he needed, but he was never allowed back on the track. The trainer who “stole” him faced resentment and outright blacklisting for what she’d done, and for sticking to her standards, demanding better treatment for racehorses all round. What a fierce, determined, upright character. Though not without qualms to be a bit forceful when she felt it was merited. I think “feisty” would be the right word. Admirable. Really well-told story, even if it was a lot about the court battles and legal wrangling (which I usually find tedious to read about).

Illustrations by Corban Wilkin didn’t really work for me. They were quite expressive, but a bit rough around the edges- which I think was the style- however it also entailed some odd anatomy on the horse- not quite as bad as the Beastar Yahya, but still awkward in numerous panels (the cover image is good though).

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/7/24.

Rating: 4/5
228 pages, 2018

Wildlife Photographers United

by Margot Ragget, et al

From the same series as Remembering Leopards and Remembering African Wild Dogs. Just like the other two, it’s a collection of stunning photographs that wildlife photographers donated to the cause, and proceeds from the book sales support the featured animals- by protecting habitat, educating locals on why it’s important to save them, funding studies, anti-poaching efforts and more. Like the previous books, the photographs are just beautiful. The text doesn’t have as much on the animals’ physiology and behavior as I had hoped (one page of that), it’s more about their tangled history with mankind (being caught by the thousands in ancient times for use as trained hunting animals) and in particular, how precarious their future is because of ongoing habitat loss and poaching. Nowadays this is mainly because cubs get stolen from the wild for the illegal pet trade, and the photo of emaciated cheetah cubs in a cage (that had been confiscated) made me feel so sad. You really hope that the title run of this series won’t come true- that someday future readers won’t be looking at these books in remembrance because the species no longer exists at all.

The pictures really are amazing. Again I looked through the whole book twice, and then thumbed to my favorite images for another lingering perusal when it was time to turn this one in. I love the photo of a mother cheetah up high in a tree snag, with her cubs interspaced vertically through the tree, and one leaping down to the ground. Other images of mothers with cubs, cheetahs standing in the golden glow of setting sun, one poised so beautifully against a background of running water, and some spectacular shots that captured the action of a hunt- final tackle of the gazelle or antelope prey- just couldn’t stop looking at them. My favorite was of a cub on the sands of Namibia. But I forgot to snapshot the page to show you.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/6/24.

Rating: 4/5
144 pages, 2020

How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home

by Nicole J. Georges

Growing up from a dysfunctional childhood (she called herself a very feral child) in which she loved many animals but did not know how to properly care for them, the author latched onto a dog that she adopted intending as a gift for her boyfriend, but it turned out one of his parents objected. She convinced her own parents to let her keep the dog, but it had issues. Barking, resenting being touched, fighting with other dogs, fearful of men and children, the list goes on. Eventually the parents got so fed up with the dog that the author moved out to live with her then-boyfriend in a crummy apartment they could barely pay for. The relationship didn’t last, but her close tie with the dog continued for the rest of its life. Many ups and downs, struggling to make ends meet, dealing with a continual rotation of roommates and boarders, friends renewed and dropped again, realizing she was bi, attempting new skills, struggling to make her art and find her voice, and so on. It was not at all the kind of growing up experience I had, but in a very familiar location (Portland, OR- I didn’t live there but kinda nearby in the Pacific Northwest region, so the vibe felt familiar). Very gritty, down-to-earth, full of sadness and bittersweet comforts too. She deals with loving this anxious, ill-behaved dog while feeling anxious and sad herself, and finally getting help for that. Strange interactions with a woman who was a pet psychic and tried to train her to be the same, but she wasn’t quite into it. Lots of funny and also alarming scenarios. Long-lasting trauma from a car accident which hit a little close to home for me. Her commitment to this dog that is odd-looking (head too big for her body) might seem a bit over-the-top to some, but it was the one steady thing through all those rough years of being just past a teenager but not quite a fully stable adult yet. Lots of growth. And I have to give fair warning: the dog dies in the end. Her handling of that was also very heartfelt and a bit difficult for me to read, because we recently lost a cat at the end of a long life, and also had a backyard burial . . . so this book may induce, along with some astonishment and shaking of the head, tears in the final pages.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 5/4/24.

Rating: 4/5
320 pages, 2017

by Tim Flach

What a gorgeous (and terribly heavy) book! It’s one of those oversized “coffee table” books. Found browsing at the library, sat down to look through while my kid was busy, and then decided to bring it home to finish reading. There is some text, both about the artist’s work, his vision and intentions, some of the technicalities on how he made the photographs, and interesting details on the history or current utilisation of certain horse breeds. A lot of the particulars about the individual photos are listed in the back, so you are wholly absorbed with just looking when going through the main pages.

What a feast for the eyes. The first section has beautifully abstract images, that don’t show the entire horse but just a curve of neck, shine of flank, beautiful flowing hair, the sculptural aspect of the muscles. It’s really something else. Second section depicts horses in their landscapes- Prezwalski on the steppes, Icelandic horses running along icy shorelines (how sharply I recalled the description of the fast paced tolt gait, in A Good Horse Has No Color), Norwegian Fjords in deep snow, Shetland ponies all wet and muddy looking cold but perfectly calm, Haflingers golden against stunning mountain vistas, a very stocky, glowing Suffolk Punch standing square on a flat yard, a group of shaggy poitou donkeys- looking like sculptures-, mustangs running through clouds of dust, Arabians poised and appearing too perfect to be real. One breed I had never heard of: the Marwari from India, which has curly ears!

Then there’s images of horses in a setting of human influence. Wearing leg wraps and specific head coverings as protection or to treat with something: ten images of different masks and headgear- from riot protection to chloroform and nebulizer administration, to mixed medieval armor. There’s images of the skeleton, and some ethereal, fascinating ones of embryos at different stages. Images of different equine crosses- not just mules but zebra/donkey and zebra/horse hybrids, and the extinct quagga. Warning for some disturbing images- a horse with an eye surgically removed (this one didn’t bother me), closeup of flies on a manure pile- it’s a vivid pattern of iridescent wings- and another more unsettling one of a mare’s placenta, all pink veins in clear detail. That one sure took me by surprise when I turned the page.

But mostly it’s beautiful pictures of horses, and some so intriguingly different you see the animal in a new way. Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 4/25/24.

Rating: 4/5
304 pages, 2008

Wildlife Photographers United

by Margot Ragget, et al

From the same series as the wild dogs photography book. The leopards are just absolutely gorgeous, a feast of beauty for your eyes. Stunning photos all round. I learned there’s eight recognized subspecies. Majority of the photos depict the African leopard. Some of the others are so rare and elusive there’s only one photo of each in this book: Arabian, Persian, Javan and Indochinese leopards. There’s a few more pictures of Amur, Sri Lankan and Indian leopards, including some melanistic ones (black panthers). I learned there’s another uncommon color morph, the “strawberry” leopard that has a reddish hue to its coat and dark brown spots. I don’t think there was a photo of one in here- if so it wasn’t identified as such- but I found some pictures online. They don’t look so different from regular black-and-gold leopards until you put the pictures side by side, then it really stands out. Also in this book are photos of snow leopards (actually more closely related to tigers) and clouded leopards (which diverged from other big cats in ancient times). Some of the stop-action photos of two leopards leaping around each other- in conflict or play- are just astonishing. They’re all so beautiful, and the cubs are especially endearing. As with Remembering African Wild Dogs, I had to page through this three times to fully immerse myself in appreciating the images.

Borrowed from the public library. Completed on 4/9/24.

Rating: 5/5
160 pages, 2023

Wildlife Photographers United

by Margot Ragget et al

An absolutely stunning book that I read in one sitting, while waiting for my kid at a library event. I actually paged through it twice, to look at all the images a second time around. It’s from a series organized to raise awareness of wildlife species that are at risk of extinction. Wildlife photographers donated their work to be included in the book, aiming to produce the most beautiful, stunning collection ever. Proceeds go to support the animals in question- whether that be for research studies, habitat preservation, educating locals to the animals’ value, etc. There are a few sections of text describing the animals, the work done to help them, the importance of giving them space in our world. While the text is brief, it felt very eloquent. In terms of the wild dogs (one of my favorite animals ever since I read Innocent Killers by Jane Goodall and Hugo van Lawick as a teen) the book emphasizes their place in the ecosystem, reasons they have been reviled by people for so long, and yet are so little known (they travel almost constantly, far and very fast). There’s a bit about their life history and physiology, too. Much of this was familiar to me, but I didn’t know before that the wild dogs (also known as Cape hunting dogs or painted wolves- even though they’re not closely related to wolves-) only have four toes on each foot (having diverged from canines farther back in evolutionary time) and that they sneeze at each other when communicating excitement for the hunt!

Majority of the book is the photographs. And they are absolutely gorgeous. I love the ones of the young puppies. And there are some with beautiful golden gaze. Many showing moments of peace, camaraderie in the pack, fast action of the hunt. From some of the earlier text explaining how the brutal-looking method wild dogs use to kill their prey isn’t as terrible as it appears (the victim goes into shock and supposedly feels very little pain) I was really expecting to see at least one photo with some gore or the dogs feeding on a kill, but there wasn’t any of that. So I don’t need to give any fair warning that something might shock a viewer.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 5/5
144 pages, 2021

a true tale of adventure, treachery, and the hunt for the perfect bird

by Joshua Hammer

About a very specific and rather obscure (to the best of my knowledge) crime: the illegal acquisition of eggs from nests of endangered birds of prey, for sale to falconers in foreign countries (chiefly in the Middle East). It seems to have a little bit of everything encircling this racket. A brief history of falconry and description of the sport. An in-depth exploration of several characters- both the man who became renowned for stealing falcon eggs, and the investigator who was determined to track him down, and several others involved as well. These sections a little tedious as admittedly I did not really care what cafe they sat in when the men met with someone, or what they ordered to eat, or what they were wearing. I was however fascinated by the details about why certain men found egg-collecting such an obsessive hobby, or how the thief first became involved in groups that studied and followed the habits of birds of prey, becoming very familiar with their nesting locations long before he started taking eggs. There’s a lot more in here, but what really stood out to me at the end were two things: the thief was such an affable man, knowledgeable and easy to talk to, that the men trying to pin him down for his crimes couldn’t help admiring him as a person. And that even though the thief was caught several times, convicted, and ceased his nefarious activities for years, eventually he would go back to it. He couldn’t stop, it seemed. There was some thrill of the challenge: could he reach distant nesting ledges in the arctic without being detected, could he get away with smuggling eggs containing live chicks on flights, etc. . .

Definitely a book I’ll want to read again someday, paper version. I am fairly sure my attention drifted away a few times and I missed something. Completed on 1/7/24.

Borrowed from the public library. Audiobook version, narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies, 8 hours 23 min listening time

Rating: 4/5
317 pages, 2020

My initial attempt to cover all the things I’ve read (listened to) and puzzled during my recovery time! My screen time is still limited, so this will be brief. I was in the middle of reading these two books when had the incident, hung onto them for weeks and finally realized I was going to run out of borrowing time before I could read again. So I turned them in, plus a waiting stack on my bedside table. Thus they’re considered Abandoned, though it was reluctant and unintentional so DNF is a better term, just one I haven’t used much on here.

Creature

by Shaun Tan
Collection of drawings and sketches by the author/artist. Delightful and whimsical and random. At least, they seemed random at first- but when you get to the very end pages there’s a little description and explanation by the artist, about what inspired the piece, or what other story it was a part of, or what he thinks about the depicted object. The intro and these end-pages explanation bits are lovely reading, it is so solidly insightful and makes me feel appreciative (of art). I need to get my hands on more Shaun Tan! and see the animations done from some of his books- I didn’t even know they existed, before. The artwork is all so much fun, even if some have sad or lonely overtones. Most of them are of everyday objects combined or personified into little beings that interact or have some symbolic meaning. Not quite sure how else to describe it. I had spent days poring over all the pictures, looked through them all at least twice, and then was super happy to find the text at the back to read about, but then I couldn’t. Someone else had this one on request so I turned it in having only read four or five pages of the explanations, but I want to borrow it again to go through the rest, and look at the drawings all over again, of course.

Abandoned             224 pages, 2022

 

The Last Elephants

compiled by Don Pinnock and Colin Bell

This thick, impressive coffee-table size book is all about the current state of elephants in Africa. As far as I can tell, the two compilers traveled the breadth of the continent collecting materials written about, and photographs taken of, elephants. The words are from conservationists, animal welfare workers, government policy makers, wildlife photographers, safari outfit organizers, big game hunting enthusiasts, field scientists, etc (probably some occupations I have got wrong and many others forgotten because I don’t have the book in front of me now). The photographs- many of them double-page spreads- are stunning and beautiful. The words are detailed, sober and expressive, though I have to admit some of them are on the other hand very straightforward and dry. The chapter written about policy makers and the problems caused when elephant populations cross boundaries of countries that have different ways of assessing and handling their numbers was particularly difficult to get through, if I recall. I did like best one chapter that was about two individual elephants, though now I can’t tell you anything about it. Personal stories always get me closer. And I was very struck by the section about how elephants and big trees co-exist. Namely, it was pointed out that the helpful work of people to provide more watering holes for elephants and other wildlife, actually has a negative impact on large trees- because if the elephants have easy access to water and stay in one place, they keep feeding on the same trees and damage them. In normal circumstances, they’d roam far between watering places, giving trees in one area time to recover and grow again, before they returned. And yet now they often can’t roam because of fences, roads, human habitation and other things blocking their path.

There’s writings in here about poaching, about the ivory trade, about conservation efforts, and the viewpoints of many different people involved with elephants in one way or another. I was just barely getting into this one- it was kind of slow reading already- when I had to pause. Definitely going to borrow this book again, too.

Abandoned               490 pages, 2019

True Stories of the Horses We Rescue and the Horses Who Rescue Us

by Callie Smith Grant

The stories in this book are pretty short- most just a few pages long, all with the theme of being rescued. Wide variety of situations and types, the common thread being (of course) horses, and that all the authors are women. They’re all good stories, that warm your heart. Some are about horses taken from abusive or neglectful situations, and brought back to health. One is about a horse adopted from the BLM program that rounds up mustangs to control the population numbers. There are horses with behavior problems that needed careful re-schooling, unhappy or unwell children and women who were helped by working with a horse, old horses that needed a companion in their retirement, younger ones that just hadn’t found quite the right owner yet, and so on. It was nice to see that not all the stories had a happy ending for the writer, per se. There was more than one story about a struggle to work with a certain horse, and it just wasn’t going well, so finally they sold the horse or found it a new home, all to the better. It’s not all strictly horses, either- there are quite a few donkeys featured, and one zebra! The people are all different too- from new riders to experienced ones, competitive professionals and those who simply enjoy trail rides. There are women who were on horseback since a young age, and others who learned it as a new skill well into adulthood. I liked all the stories, I just didn’t find them very memorable- when done reading, I couldn’t put my finger on any one in particular to summarize for you in detail. But that’s okay, it’s staying on my shelf for another read someday.

I received my copy from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5
192 pages, 2023

Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting and Family Lives of Familiar Birds

by Laura Erickson and Marie Read

Exactly what the subtitle says. Lots of great photographs, details on how the featured bird species select a mate, build their nests, share parenting duties, feed the young, their development and how long it takes them to fledge, then become independent, etc. A bit on social structure, song types, migration patterns and other details as well. Most of the species in here are songbirds, but there’s also great blue herons, red-tailed hawks, pigeons, killdeer, herring gulls, mallards and great horned owls. I was delighted to come across a bunch of new facts.

Such as: robins in my area don’t really migrate. You think they’re gone all winter, but they’re just in scattered flocks traveling around to different food sources. They get noticed when the males start staking out individual territories on lawns in the spring again. Mourning doves build a nest so loosely woven that sometimes eggs fall out through the bottom of it! When you find a nest with eggs and no parent bird in sight, it’s probably not deserted. Many female birds don’t start incubating until all the eggs are laid- then they will hatch at the same time. Hummingbirds use spider silk in their nest construction, so it will stretch as the baby birds grow. Young hairy woodpeckers stack their heads on top of each other’s necks in the nest, and the one on top gets fed when the parent arrives. Then it moves its head down to the bottom, the next on top gets fed, and so on- so they all receive an equal amount of food (most hatchlings, the biggest beggar gets the most food and smaller ones fall behind in growth). Phoebes feed their older nestlings wasps and bees, which they first beat on branches to subdue (and possibly break off the stinger). Chickadees have a social hierarchy in their winter flocks, and pair up with mates that have the same position among the opposite gender. Nuthatches smear pine resin around the entrance to their nest, and sometimes smashed-up stinkbugs, too- apparently to deter predators. Mockingbirds never reuse a nest, they always build a new one. Eagles are known to build on the old nest year after year until it gets huge. And peregrine falcons habitually use the same ledges, generation after generation. One nest site in Australia had a heap of debris (excrement and food scraps) below the ledge with material at the bottom estimated to be 16,000 years old. Female chipping sparrows tend to nest in the same small area every year, but they don’t reuse the nest. Instead they might tear it apart and use the materials to build a new one.

And that’s just a small sample. I found it all very engaging to read about. Plus the pictures were just stellar.

Similar reads: Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose, The Mating Lives of Birds by James Parry, What It’s Like to Be a Bird by David Sibley.

Borrowed from the public library.

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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