Book Review: The Adventures of a Young Naturalist, by David Attenborough

Available in bookshops nationwide.

51xl7QiCeML._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_David Attenborough is a legend of our time, synonymous with sharing the wonders and delights of the natural world with us through numerous television series over decades. He is a man with fascinating stories to tell about his life and career and Zoo Quest Expeditions shares some of these adventures.

In the 1950’s, David Attenborough was 26, a television producer for the BBC with two year’s broadcasting experience and an unused zoology degree, anxious to make animal programmes.

His plan was simple. The BBC and the London Zoo should mount a joint animal-collecting expedition on which both he and a curator of reptiles from the London Zoo should go. David would direct film sequences showing the London Zoo curator searching for and finally capturing a creature of particular interest. The resulting television series should be called Zoo Quest.

Zoo Quest Expeditions is David’s diary account of the experiences they had on their animal-collecting expeditions into the wilderness of British Guiana (Guyana), Indonesia, and Paraguay in the 1950’s.

Part of the magic of this book is the realisation as to how special these far flung locations were in a time when there was limited access to the area, and few European faces. Exotic animals were abundant the jungles and wilderness, and sometimes living as pets in remote villages. David and his team come into contact with Caiman crocodiles, piranhas, sloths, exotic birds, giant spiders, vampire bats, capybara, tree porcupines, manatee, anteaters, and many, many more wonderful creatures.

There is also the realisation that David Attenborough was far more than just a television producer and presenter, he was a very hands-on naturalist, with a confidence and appreciation of the animals and wilderness environments. He waded in deep crocodile infested waters, crawled through jungles, climbed trees with giant snakes; the man had no fear. The tale of David wrestling with the monster python a foot wide and 12 feet long in the jungles of Java is an eye-opener.

David Attenborough acknowledges in the book’s introduction that nowadays zoos don’t send out animal collectors on quests to bring them back for the zoo collection. The methods were of the time, when men of science were still concerned with compiling a catalogue of all the species of animals alive today, rather than conservation and respect for the wildlife and environment. If you can be comfortable with this, you’ll be able to appreciate the stories of the beautiful and charismatic creatures and their first interactions with humans, rather than saddened by the fact they were often collected and brought back to zoos.

On the trip back from Guyana, most of the animals were brought back by sea, except a few nice spiders, scorpions and one or two snakes in sealed tins with tiny air holes that went on the plane with David. He also kept a Coatimundi kitten nestled inside his shirt, a delightful furry creature still on a milk diet, with bright brown eyes, a long ringed tail and a pointed inquisitive snout. When he became hungry for more, they fed him worms rustled up from the tulip gardens at the airport in Amsterdam.

Zoo Quest Expeditions is a snapshot of a time long past, and a truly fascinating account of the wonderful animals that live our planet Earth.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions
by David Attenborough
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781473665958

Adventures of a Young Naturalist: The Zoo Quest Expeditions features in the 2017 Summer Reading Catalogue.