By Malcolm Smith
Often fun, occasionally romantic or fraught with threat, those 30 brief tales are approximately local community, astounding areas and the targeted flora and fauna the writer units out to discover. The tales comprise searching out Arabian Oryx at the searing plains of the Saudi wilderness; eiderdown gathering in Iceland, crouching in swirling clouds and darkness on a knife-edge ridge within the rugged Madeiran mountains and swimming with gray Seals off the Pembroke coast.
the writer describes excellent encounters with astonishing animals from lumbering manatees and hazardous rhinos to unforgettable reviews reminiscent of being led by means of a honeyguide with a Kenyan Dorobo tribesman to the nest of untamed bees and observing cranes tip-toeing their courtship dances.
These highly wonderful stories stopover at locations as different because the Florida Everglades, England’s New woodland, Iceland’s offshore islands, the Empty area of the Saudi wilderness, the tiny remnants of Jordan’s Azraq wetland and the striking oak dehesas of Extremadura. chill out and stopover at the world!
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Extra resources for Gone wild: stories from a lifetime of wildlife travel
Perhaps the OED was simply a bit slow catching on; there was plenty of ploughing before that. Who knows. Refreshed – and slightly wobbly – we wandered from Fritham village between the veteran trees of Queen North Wood and turned east, soporific now, to overlook Rakes Brakes Bottom replete with its woody, dwarf bushes of aromatic Sweet Gale, scimitar-shaped leaves of yellow-flowered Bog Asphodel, and a plethora of insecteating sundews with their sticky, gobby-wet leaves. Jet-black dragonflies zoomed like dogfighting Spitfires around the whippy willows and white-barked birches at the side of the mire where the ground was still waterlogged but not awash.
So, too, are up to two million cattle that graze its shallower marshes (and even more sheep and goats further inland) for eight months of the year. The aquatic grass that grows naturally in deeper water – known as bourgou or Hippo Grass – is harvested and fed to cattle on dry land. Some is stored for the dry season. And some is planted as a crop to harvest. Extensive crops of rice are grown too; rice is the staple here. The flooding river deposits nutrient-rich silt that aids the growth of other staples like millet and sorghum.
They were python tracks. And it was an Indian Python that my guide Satto Singh, in Rajasthan’s fabulous Keoladeo National Park, had just gone off to find. I just hoped that he knew which way this python was slithering. Or how many pythons there might be. Standing there on my own, and not knowing very much about pythons, I started to wonder how fast one can move if it feels an urge to. And which direction might it come from? If one decided to come out of its burrow – in which, apparently, they lay their eggs – would it simply ignore me and slide away?
Gone wild: stories from a lifetime of wildlife travel by Malcolm Smith