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Book 12: Zoo Quest to Guiana by David Attenborough (thoughs and comparisons)

I came across a second-hand copy of this book in a charity shop in Kew, Richmond on a recent visit to England. (Was there a couple of weeks before the Covid-19 panic started).

I love travelogues and one of my favourite authors of such stories is Gerald Durrell. I have nearly all of his travel books that he wrote about his various animal-collecting and, later, filming expeditions to odd corners of the globe, and as a matter of fact, one of my favourites is Three Singles to Adventure, about an animal-collecting expedition to Guiana which was made around the same time as the expedition Attenborough describes in this book. It was therefore interesting to read about Attenborough's adventures in the same country around the same time.

It is, unfortunately perhaps, inevitable when one comes across two books about the same place and same kinds of activities written around the same time, to compare the two, especially when one of them is a favourite. I certainly found myself doing this while reading this book. The comparison is only slightly in Durrell's favour - his book is funnier and he writes more thoroughly about the people and animals he came across - while Attenborough's is more to the point and, one suspects, less exaggerated. Not that there aren't funny moments and endearing people and animals, because there are, and where Attenborough's book wins over Durrell's is in the descriptions of the filming and sound recording the BBC team did while there, and also in the fact that they visited more places and therefore the book gives a slightly more fleshed out image of the country. He is also less prone to attribute human traits and personalities to the animals and focuses more on the people around him.

As is often the case when reading books that take place in the past, there are cringe-worthy moments, like, for example, when one of Attenborough's companions catches a bird using bird-lime: a sticky, glue-like substance used to catch birds, that is now illegal in many places. The descriptions of a hunt for a manatee that the team brought back to England are also liable to cause one a moment or two of rage. I'm pretty sure that the Attenborough of today would agree with me, at least about the bird-lime.

All in all, I enjoyed this book and will be on the lookout for the rest of the Zoo Quest series.


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