Armchair Traveller Challenge #4
In 1949, Gerald Durrell returned to the Cameroons in search of specimens of the local wildlife. The hunt was helped by the cheerful co-operation of the Fon of Bafut, a larger-than-life character with a large capacity for alcohol, who provided accommodation for both animal hunter and animals and a motley team of hunters and dogs who became known as the Bafut Beagles. Needless to say, the collecting - and the subsequent transport of the collection back to England - did not go entirely to plan. A disgruntled hyrax, elusive toads, and the mercenary antics of Jacob the cook created chaos enough. But it was an irate snake and a squirrel inaptly called Sweeti-pie that really left the collecting party in an uproar.
In terms of fitness of selection, this is the high point of the Armchair Traveller Challenge thus far. The jungle and its inhabitant - both animal and human - are vividly described and many of the animals display distinct personality (not in a anthropomorphic way, but just in the way that animals do, as any pet owner knows). Probably there’s a historical perspective in there too; I can’t imagine things have remained unchanged for 58 years. (Is there still such a place as the Cameroons?) Whether the country still exists or not, there were plenty of opportunities there for funny things to happen; though unfortunately events weren’t up to the level of hilarity of, say, My Family and Other Animals. This book had a definite serious side, with potentially deadly situations and the ins and outs of caring for and transporting a large collection of animals. There is also a bit too much information about the less appealing habits of monkeys and the parasites they can carry. But there are some wonderful moments - often involving the aforementioned squirrel - and I wound up with a few attacks of the giggles.