Gallipoli Murphy the Anzac donkey
Jan Morris and her cat explore the animal kingdom in search of tigers, bears, foxes and the tuskless Indian elephant
Saturday 17 December 1994
He was particularly taken with Silent Heroes, by Evelyn Le Chigne (Souvenir Press, £15.99), which is all about the courage and devotion displayed by our dumb friends during the wars of the humans. Dumb was the right word, I thought myself, as I read about Chindit Minnie, Stubby the Hero of the Trenches, Gallipoli Murphy the Anzac donkey and Rob the parachuting collie, but Jenks thought it inspiring, and even claimed to be distantly related to Simon of the Royal Navy, the only cat to win the Dickin Medalfor courage (posthumously, for determined rat-catching in the face of the enemy, Yangtze River, 1949).
We both loved the album of winning pictures in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition (Fountain Press, £19.95) because although it has a fairly lugubrious introduction by David Bellamy ("Will it become just another archive of a dying world?"),for the most part it is a wonderfully joyous affair. The picture that won outright, by the American Thomas Mangelsen, shows a polar bear and an Arctic fox wistfully side by side, all alone in a vast expanse of the Arctic, waiting for the sea to freeze so they can go hunting for seals: but most of the pictures are full of pleasure, with bears courting, lions and leopards playing, a crocodile contentedly chomping a gazelle, a moth laying eggs, a swan leading her cygnets with perfect aplomb over a waterfall - a grand and beautiful display, in short, of animal spirits.
Then there was a book misleadingly entitled, I thought (though Jenks disagreed), Noble Beasts (Bulfinch Press, £17.50), an anthology of animal pictures taken from the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. By no means all its beasts seemed to me noble, least of all the American naif dog on the cover, which has protruding teeth and very stumpy legs; but there is certainly nobility enough inside, in the animals themselves, in images by Durer, Renoir, Manet, the bronze carvers of Benin, Audubon and Rubens, and in the agreeable collection of poems and prose extracts which Brian D Hotchkiss has chosen to accompany them. Very commendable, Jenks thought it, slavering rather over the plump rabbit on page 90.
But then two books about exotica cast a slight dampener on our delights ("More Whiskas, Jenks?" "Go on then, if you're having another"). Raman Sukumar's Elephant Days and Nights (Oxford University Press, Delhi) is a memoir of the decade he has spent studying the Asian elephant, but it is more than that, because it is an intimate record too of the particular relationship that the elephant has with the people of India. The elephant is a national symbol, an essential part of the culture; it is al so a plunderer of crops, a destroyer of trees, and even sometimes a murderer. Sukumar treats his majestic subject with love and humour but without sentimentality, and ironically appends to his penultimate chapter, about the illustrious history of the Asi an elephant, a sad prognosis: that if ivory poaching is not ended, natural selection may produce an altogether tuskless breed of Indian pachyderm.
Even sadder, we thought, was Tiger, by Simon Barnes (Boxtree, £17.99). Its very end-papers are poignant, for they show the ever-shrinking habitat of the tiger during the 20th century - gone from the Middle East and Central Asia, from most of China and much of Indonesia, almost gone from Sibera and even in India confined to isolated slabs of terrain. The book is a celebration of everything tigrine, from myth to physique, but it is very nearly an obituary too. We are losing at least one tiger every day, probably more. All the more horrible is the picture in this book of a tiger auction in Talwain, in which a magnificent creature of the night is spread-eagled with ropes upside-down in a cage, burning bright no longer, just stared at impertinently by ugly humans.
Poor Jenks. He did not like that at all. But he was most disturbed of all by the last of our books - A Short History of The Wolf in Britain, by James Harting (Pryor Publications), a facsimile reproduction of a work first published in 1880. There are, of course, no wolves in Britain now, but once they were almost everywhere, and the learned Harting tells us dispassionately how they were exterminated. In Wales their pelts were dispatched as tribute to overlords. In England royal grants of land were made to people undertaking to wipe them out. In Scotland a dead wolf was worth a live ox. By 1770, so Harting estimates, there were no wild wolves left alive in the British Isles.
Captain Jenks was horrified, and looked up at me with anxious eyes. Could it possibly happen, he seemed to be suggesting. . .? I did my best to reassure him. . . . "Don't be ridiculous, Jenks", I said, hoisting him with difficulty on to my lap. "We'll beextinct before you are."
Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandalbooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scientists create transparent mouse complete with see-through organs
- 2 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 3 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 Amazonian Indian tribe filmed making contact with Brazil village in rare video footage
Game of Thrones actress Aimee Richardson begs for 'other princess work' after Myrcella Baratheon part is recast
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming in August 2014
Cultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
The Walking Dead season 5 will see deaths of 'favourite characters', suggests Andrew Lincoln
Edinburgh Festival 2014: Israeli show The City pulled after pro-Palestinian protests
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
- < Previous
- Next >