Author Masson is a seasoned animal author with attitude. In this lovely and very well-researched compendium, he has written wisely and well about 100 animal species, from the ordinary (camels, bats and badgers) to the lesser known and more exotic, like glowworms, oysters and meerkats.
rare but loveable pronghorn, for example, a kind of American gazelle, has a flat
face with markings that give it a goofy look, and it runs fast. Apparently this speed is a relict (like the human male nipple, Masson tells us) of a time when even bears ran fast and prey had to be able to outrun predators. Masson likes the pronghorn and jumps right in, admitting, “Okay, don’t get grossed out, but I find it bizarrely fascinating that fauns urinate and defecate into the mouths of their mothers.” Too much information, one might say, yet there’s a logical reason for this: the mother’s intestine can convert unwholesome flora from her baby’s gut into antibodies to be dispensed in her milk machine. Simple.
So read on and learn about the prolific mating habits of the paua, or abalone, which eject semen through tiny holes in their shells and produce eleven million eggs at a time. An abalone can live up to forty years and with its muscular “foot” can “clamp onto rocks under the surface of the sea so tightly that divers must use a heavy iron bar to wrench it away.” Abalone shells are sought after for making jewelry, but it is the meat that makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of the abalone trade, and poaching is rife. As Masson laments, “Will the day ever come when we simply observe these intriguing animals as things of beauty without wishing to exploit them?”
The book maintains an ecological (anti-hunting) theme, the thoughtful work of a man who unabashedly adores animals and might want to be one. Who else would conclude that “goats and humans have much in common”? He writes of the manatee that most people find them ugly at first meeting, but “perhaps like the French jolie laide, a woman who is attractive although not conventionally pretty, a manatee’s look grows on you.” Masson becomes downright defensive about the presumed lack of intelligence of the rhino (its brain is small for its head size). Not satisfied with telling us, of the Tasmanian devils, that “their sexual life is complicated,” he weighs in with details of exactly what goes on in the devil den at mating time.
Masson is involved with every animal he describes. His book, beautifully written and hefty in the hand, would make a wonderful present for your educated animal lover aunty.