Apr 23, 2017

A Zoo in My Luggage

by Gerald Durrell

This short but very entertaining book is about Durrell's return trip to the Cameroons (in Africa), eight years after his first visit. On this occasion he was collecting animals for his own zoo, which didn't have a location yet! The final brief chapters describe the difficulties of getting the animals safely home to England, and finding a site on which to build his zoo (the city didn't want it at first).

Half the book is little stories about the wild animals, much is also about the Fon, a local dignitary Durrell met on his first trip, who greeted his return with enthusiasm- just as much for the nights spent drinking and dancing as for the economic windfall Durrell brought to his country, with his offer to buy as many wild animals as the local people could catch. The character sketches are delightful. Once again the phonetic presentation of the local pidgin dialect can be cringe-worthy, but I had encountered this before and knew what to expect...

Of course my favorite is reading about the animals. The cute bushbabies and infant squirrels, alarming snakes, elusive rare birds. A baboon that caused endless trouble, in particular amusing herself by ambushing visitors and tackling their legs. Two mongooses of very different types and temperaments. A squirrel that has green fur and a red tail- I have read his description of this squirrel before, but never yet able to figure out what species it is or find a picture. Hilarious chapter about his attempts to film wildlife in realistic settings doing normal things- with regular failure: the owl deliberately turns its back on the camera every time, a diminutive antelope only wants to bolt or freeze, a calm episode of filming some rodents gets interrupted by a snake. A doormouse who having tasted the easy life in captivity, refused to leave when it was set free (it had suffered an accident which did no lasting harm but made it unfit for display in Durrell's opinion).

That's the last of my Durrell collection, until I find more of his books.

Rating: 3/5        185 pages, 1960

Apr 16, 2017

Encounters with Animals

by Gerald Durrell

More intriguing stories about experiences with wildlife, by one of my favorite authors. According to the foreward, these brief tales were originally presented as a series of radio talks, and so many people requested a copy of the script that Durrell decided to write them down in a book. Loosely grouped: stories about animals' courtship behavior, rearing and protecting their young, and amusing ways in which their actions remind us of humans. They're kind of scattered- ranging from time in his childhood spent watching insects (most notably a battle between different species of ants), keeping a marmoset as a pet which would crawl into bed with various members of the family in succession every morning (it had trouble staying warm enough) or time spent observing hippos in a river during a collecting trip for a zoo. My favorite was the description of a mother jacana and her brood -a bird in South America that walks across lily pads on the water- trying to evade a single young caiman that lurked in their pond. Also a chapter about the return trip Durrell made on ship bringing animals home- where the captain constantly disparaged the creatures until Durrell claimed he could prove that any invention by man had been used by animals for far longer. Of course Durrell won the bet by describing radar used by bats, electricity produced by electric eels and rays, paralysis (example of drugs?) caused by a spider bite to her prey, and an aqualung created by a spider that lives under water. Funniest part was that Durrell found out later that the captain afterwards would retell these same stories to other passengers to impress them! Behavior of many other animals described: tigers, birds of paradise, praying mantids, spiders, weaver birds, tree porcupine, Père David's deer, an orphaned kangaroo, dwarf mongoose (one I had to look up- he only referred to it by the local name kusimanse), a baby anteater, and a particular whip scorpion which became a beloved pet until he accidentally lost it at sea.

A lot of it felt awfully familiar- I think I've read some of these stories in other books of his, but didn't have the time to page back through them and find out for sure. Enjoyable, regardless.

Rating: 3/5         187 pages, 1958

more opinions: BookNAround

Apr 9, 2017


Maybe you've noticed, I haven't been reading as many books lately. Busy with gardening and transitions in my aquariums and other stuff. What reading I am doing is mostly dipping in and out of magazines- hobby related- so there's that.

I have a happy book moment to tell, though. A month or two ago I wanted to read a book off my TBR shelf about a woman who studied sharks. She was mentioned in this other shark book I'd read. I distinctly remembered getting it at a library sale, and what it looked like. Couldn't find it anywhere on my shelves or the stack on the floor (not organized, but it's not huge, either). Baffled, I searched two or three times. I even looked on my swap shelf downstairs, just in case. And checked my swap site lists online- thinking maybe I'd tried it, given up, put it out for swap and forgotten about it. Nope. I checked my library catalog- still listed as being in my collection, unread.

Finally gave up looking for it.

I just happened to find it today by accident, at the bottom of my backpack (which I don't use very often). I must have stuck it in there as an alternative read for a trip, never opened the book, and forgot it was there when I unpacked later. I'm so glad it's not actually lost or given away! Laughed out loud to hold it in my hands again. Now let's see if it's any good.

Apr 4, 2017

An Entirely Synthetic Fish

How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World
by Anders Halverson

It's about rainbow trout. How they became so popular among fishermen, how hatcheries evolved to populate the streams and rivers, driven by the revenue brought in by sportsmen who then demanded certain provisions. This is back in the sixties and earlier. Entire watersheds were poisoned to remove "undesirable" fish and restock with rainbow trout. That part was awful to read. A lot of this is about management politics and departmental bickering over policies- sadly no real studies into the situation of fish in the rivers was done until it was too late. By then genetic testing and numbers revealed that most fish had rainbow trout ancestry to some degree- so lots of native fishes aren't in their original form anymore but the offspring of hybrids. In a complete about-face, fish and game departments started removing rainbow trout from the rivers they had once worked so hard to stock- when they realized that native fish and some ecosystems were threatened to disappear (fish and frogs don't mix- some frogs in lakes that had never seen fish until they were artificially stocked almost went extinct). The parts about genetics, fish behavior, wild vs hatchery-raised and even disease outbreaks (whirling disease) were interesting. The parts about how exactly why rainbow trout came to be so esteemed over other "trash" fish, and how certain groups of sportsmen tried to control access to fishing areas- seeing themselves as aristocrats in a way- not so much.

I'm not sure how to rate this book. It's one of those I didn't really read all the way through- skimming large sections that were just dull and reading with more attention the parts that caught my interest. I probably skipped a third of the book. As I knew going into it, the book is more about the history of organizations and people who dealt with the fish than it is about fishes.

Borrowed from the public library.

Abandoned           257 pages, 2010