Animal Treasure

by Ivan T. Sanderson
[Viking, $3.00]
MODERN BOOKS on African travel usually fall into one or other of two categories. In one group are those in which the author is so preoccupied in the verification of his statements that many years elapse before publication; when at last the book appears it has lost in vividness what it has gained in accuracy. Such a work is consulted by residents of the region with which it deals, and upon whose shelves it survives to an honorable old age. The other type consists of books based on first impressions—notoriously the most vivid — and sets forth the author’s reactions to his new environment while incidents are fresh in his mind. Such books are usually the more readable and serve a larger public.
Animal Treasure falls naturally into the second category. In this well-illustrated volume, Sanderson records with facile pen the experiences of himself and two companions during nearly a year spent in the British Cameroons. Landing at Calabar, they proceeded to the zoölogically littleknown Mamfe district in search of mammals, frogs, and smaller fry. The virgin forests of this region are proverbially rich in wild life, and that the party’s efforts were crowned with success we know from the scientific results already published.
In Animal Treasure, however, it is the everyday experiences of the collectors and the characteristics of their captures which are set forth with a wealth of dramatic detail. Many of the incidents are amusing in the extreme — as, for example, what resulted from the horsefly puncturing George when the latter, with both gunbarrels at full cock, had his attention riveted on the forest canopy; the shooting of a domestic cow, which collided with the cookhouse, under the impression that it was a dangerous bush buffalo. We are told how natives use chopped-up whiskers of leopards for eliminating their enemies, and how they entangle pieces of luminous centipedes in their wool to light their homeward way.
Very scornful is our author of the stay-at-home zoölogist, and only a little less so of certain field collectors. Du Chaillu comes in for a rich share of this censure, but, where that pioneer extracted his thrills from gorillas, Sanderson found them in spiders. Of one hairy species he writes that it is ’about the size of my two fists held together’ and it took ‘six-foot leaps . . . at anybody who approached it. . . . As it did so, I felt the most terrifying coldness come over me. In a flash I let out a scream of pure terror and fell sideways into the ditch. Luckily I moved to the left, for the giant spider just brushed by my right ear so that I felt its loathsome furry coldness as if shot through the air to land beyond the ditch.’ Then follows what might have happened. . . .
Unfortunately sweeping generalizations are by no means confined to biological speculations. While one can fully sympathize with the author in his regrets at the replacement of virgin forest by ugly townships, one cannot but deplore the uncharitable censure of ‘the drab houses and grim workshops of the dull Europeans who have colonized Africa — as they call it — in order the better to raise their unwanted progeny.’
The African continent comprises eleven million square miles, but after ten months’ experience of a very small area Sanderson feels fully qualified to agree with a chief that Christianity is ‘the bane of present-day Africa.’ And of another chief we are told that ‘he soon observed . . . that I had almost as virulent a dislike of Christians as he had.’ Perhaps, then, we are justified in concluding that prejudice rather than calm objective observations is responsible for his views, and that after all Livingstone, Schweitzer, and many another have not lived and labored in vain.