The Bafut Beagles – Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell was a naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, author, television presenter and all round nature lover. He spent a lifetime collecting animals, studying them and educating people and zoos in the best way to study and keep them. He’s written a large number of books about his childhood, his collecting and his zookeeping days.

This particular book describes a collecting expedition to the Cameroons where he put together a pack of African hunters and mongrel dogs which he called the Bafut Beagles and together they collected a vast range of animals. Durrell spends some time describing some of the hunts as well as describing the cleaning of the animals and his struggle to keep them alive. He spends time describing the animals and their personalities as well as his interactions with the people around him. One particular day is incredibly long as he spends a lot of time drinking with the Fon of Bafut (the head man), only to get back to his house and go straight out for a lengthy hunt, on his return he then makes cages and feeds and waters the new animals as well as looking after the current animals before finally getting to bed.

Durrell struggled with the superstitions of the local people. One story stands out. It’s the story of the Que-fong-goo, a skink about a foot long, the Bafutians thought it was poisonous and that even to touch it meant death. Durrell thought otherwise and managed to catch one and to the amazement of the Bafut Beagles he stuck his thumb into the skinks mouth; needless to say he didn’t die but the Bafut Beagles were convinced he would. He talked to them about white man’s medicine and eventually talked the Fon into trying out the ‘medicine’ (some boracic acid) on his hands and then picking up the skink. He was fine and the next day the Bafut Beagles talked Durrell into giving them some white man’s medicine so they could go out and hunt some Que-fong-goo for him, they came back with a good catch. He then ordered a good supply of boracic acid for the future.

He wasn’t quite so lucky in an encounter with a snake. He disobeyed the cardinal rule of look before you put your hand into the container and was bitten by a deadly snake. He quickly cut into his flesh around the bite and got rid of as much poison as possible before being driven to the nearest doctor. He was lucky enough to make it to the doctor in time but all sorts of things went wrong first such as the car needing to be push started.

Anyway, I love all of the books written by Gerald Durrell. He’s lead a colourful life and has an entertaining way of sharing that with us. Some of his books detail how he started his zoo in his sister’s garden and how he was able to move out of there to somewhere far more appropriate.