"Will you STOP that!" my wife snarled from beside me. "Go in the other ROOM! I have an early meeting! Now git — GIT!"
"Sorry dear," I put in a page marker, slipped into a robe (camo) and scurried to my reading room. I love to read in bed. But there, I’m not allowed to read anything funny, lest I start shaking the bed in my convulsive merriment. My wife inspects any book I bring to bed. This one made the cut. Wild Sports of the World; A Book of Natural History and Adventure.
It sounded pretty harmless in the hilarity department. She looked it over… "humm," pursed her lips. "Wow, sure looks like an OLD book." Finally nodded. "Okay, this one’s fine," then she rolled over and was just dozing off when I erupted.
The publishing date was 1870, the publisher Harper & Brothers, New York. This book is a non-stop hoot, a potent antidote to contemporary claptrap about animals, especially the piffle you find on Animal Planet. I erupted when imagining the producers of Animal Planet, Paul McCartney, Phil Donahue, or my chum Bill (PETA board member) Maher reading it.
Let’s say your kids have a school paper on gorillas. They’d probably log on Animal Planet site, since they watch it on TV. Here they’ll learn these "Cool Facts:"
"Gorillas care for their babies with great affection, patience and playfulness. Energetic, mischievous youngsters are disciplined with stern vocalizations (pig-like grunts), and strong looks. Gorillas also chuckle, smile and purr. They are gentle and intelligent. Gorillas feel deeply and remember for years." Awwwwwww.
In 1870 they might have consulted "Wild Sports of the World." Harper & Brothers was the toniest publisher of the day. This was a mainstream book. Here’s what the kids learned back then:
"To meet a Gorilla means death to either yourself or him. The only chance the hunter has of saving his life, is that his very first shot may stretch the hairy monster dead on the ground. You fire and miss; woe betide you."
Now you comprehend my bedtime fit of mirth and joy. It gets better:
"Fortunately the Gorilla dies as easily as a man; a shot in the breast, if fairly delivered, is sure to bring him down. He falls forward on his face, his long muscular arms outstretched, and uttering with his last breath a hideous death-cry — half roar, half shriek — which while it announces to the hunter his safety, yet tingles his ears with a dreadful note of human agony…this makes one of the chief ingredients of the hunter’s excitement in his attack of the Gorilla."
Jane Goodall call your office.
Here’s their take on the those big lovable puddytats we see on Animal Planet:
"Pluck against pluck — cucumber coolness and nerves of steel against fangs and claws — these are the terms on which the hunter meets his big-maned enemy, Lion, Lord of brutes….the nearer he is to death the more terrible is his desire for blood. If he can get hold of a man, this bloodthirsty beast inflicts on him all the horrible tortures to which a cat subjects a mouse. ..The Arabs of Northern Africa seldom attempt the destruction of the lion but by means of the pitfall. The terrible brute falls in with a roar and he is stunned and stupefied at the bottom of the chasm. There he lies, and the people of the tents — men, women, children — tumble from their beds frantic with joy, hurry to the edge of the pit to shower bullets, stones and dirt on their enemy till he is dead."
Not exactly fare for the Born-Free crowd, but sure sounds like fun to me.
Here’s the big spotted puddytat:
"The leopard may be lurking among the tall rank herbage only waiting for your back to be turned, to leap on you and drink your blood with the horrid greed peculiar to animals so thirsty."
Now to the overgrown and playful puppy that frolicked on the prairie with Kevin Costner: "The wolf is, without doubt, one of the most cruel and bloodthirsty of man’s four-footed foes."
"Man’s enemy, man’s foe," a book about animals and the term is found on practically every page. How magnificently refreshing! And how accurate.
"For over half a million years man has been the enemy of every mammal, including the largest." This from the book Man The Hunter compiled from research papers presented at a symposium at the University Of Chicago (an outpost of sound thinking in many fields it appears) in 1967. "The human notion that it is normal for animals to flee, the whole concept of animal being wild, is the result of man’s habit of hunting."
It’s an instinct. I watched my young nieces and nephews on the beach recently. The seagulls appeared and my little nieces shrieked with glee, smiling and tossing them potato chips. My little nephews frowned maliciously and immediately started rummaging for the nearest projectiles. In seconds the gulls were under a shower of driftwood chunks, watermelon slices, and sand-filled beer cans. My brother, brother’s-in-law and myself all smiled with joy and gratification. Their grandad, especially, beamed with pride. Naturally, within seconds, the women moved in to spoil their fun.
Humberto Fontova [send him mail] holds an M.A. in History from Tulane University. He’s the author of Helldiver’s Rodeo described as "Highly entertaining!" by Publisher’s Weekly, as "Terrific!" by Salon.com, and as "Just what the doctor ordered!" by Ted Nugent.