Feb 11, 2010

Animal Orphanage

by Ric Garvey

In 1946 Kenya's first wildlife park was formed, the Nairobi National Park, where animals were protected and the public could come to view and photograph them. Ric Garvey worked at the animal orphanage there, where injured and orphaned wildlife were cared for until they could be released, or found a new home in a zoo (a few remained at the orphanage their entire lives) Animal Orphanage not only tells about the author's experiences at the orphanage and the various animals they raised, but also of wildlife frequently observed in the surrounding area. Like No Room in the Ark, their opinions of the animals were often biased- the lion was considered noble, the camel haughty, the wild dog vile.

On the other hand, the writing is friendly and I enjoyed most of the stories. There are flamingos rescued from a dried-up lake, an infant giraffe coaxed to accept a bottle using marshmallows, chimps who steal glasses from visitors, a buffalo who refused freedom and wanted to return to his cage, and a rhino who repeatedly charged a train when the first railroad was built (the rhino lost). I also enjoyed the few bits of African folklore explaining things like how the leopard got his spots, or why a rhino spreads his dung around (these are not friendly children's stories like Rudyard Kipling!) There was also a most curious case of an unknown disease which spread through the orphanage, attacking only the cats. One leopard survived, his body covered in scabs. Astonishingly, his coat lost its beautiful colors and was all black and grey. After he healed, his usual colors returned. The author attributed this to something in sunlight, but when I searched online for an explanation, I could find none (all my google attempts coming up with info about sick geckos).

It was interesting to come across in the pages of Animal Orphanage reference to other books I own or have read. One of their lions, Ugas, was given to the Adamsons and used in the filming of Born Free. I'm pretty sure I've read about Ugas in one of the Adamson's books. Another lion went to live in the Whipsnade zoo, where Gerald Durrell worked during his apprenticeship. And when describing the physical attributes of the giant forest hog, Garvey quotes "Mr. C.T. Astley Maberly in his most accurate book Animals of East Africa". This sounded familiar, so I searched my shelves and came up with that very book (as yet unread), a field guide to African wildlife.

Rating 3/5 ......... 168 pages, 1967


  1. That story about the leopard's coat changing colors is crazy! Admittedly I know absolutely nothing about leopards, but I had no idea at all they could do that.

  2. That sounds interesting. I'm listening to an audio book by Jane Goodall about endangered species and it keeps making me think of you.

  3. This looks lovely and interesting...I'd heard something about the leopard before but can't remember where.
    Is there many illustrations?

  4. Sounds interesting. I wonder if the bias on the animals isn't just part of their experience. It may be that that's how they saw them. It's very hard not to anthropomorphize animals to some extent when you're observing them.

  5. Jenny- I don't think it is a usual thing. I have to wonder if the leopard's fur just got dingy, as he wasn't grooming himself while ill? or did something really change the pigment. I can't imagine what would do that!

    Bermudaonion- Jane Goodall is one of my favorite authors! I haven't read any of her newer books but really want to.

    Amy- Was it this same story? No, sadly there are no illustrations. Once the author mentioned something about taking photographs for the book, but my edition has none.

    BlackSheep- It very well could be. However, there was an entire chapter with many stories about lions, and only two pages about the wild dogs. So I think their observations of the wild dogs might not have been very accurate? as they hadn't as much experience with them.


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