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Mean and Lowly Things: Snakes, Science, and Survival in the Congoby Kate Jackson
"Red tape, local guides who knew less about the local snakes than she did, ants, termites, and a local graduate student in herpetology who had a fear of live reptiles and amphibians....Think you've got a hard job? Read Mean and Lowly Things." Doug Brown, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
In 2005 Kate Jackson ventured into the remote swamp forests of the northern Congo to collect reptiles and amphibians. Her camping equipment was rudimentary, her knowledge of Congolese customs even more so. She knew how to string a net and set a pitfall trap, but she never imagined the physical and cultural difficulties that awaited her.
Culled from the mud-spattered pages of her journals, Mean and Lowly Things reads like a fast-paced adventure story. It is Jackson’s unvarnished account of her research on the front lines of the global biodiversity crisis — coping with interminable delays in obtaining permits, learning to outrun advancing army ants, subsisting on a diet of Spam and manioc, and ultimately falling in love with the strangely beautiful flooded forest.
The reptile fauna of the Republic of Congo was all but undescribed, and Jackson’s mission was to carry out the most basic study of the amphibians and reptiles of the swamp forest: to create a simple list of the species that exist there — a crucial first step toward efforts to protect them. When the snakes evaded her carefully set traps, Jackson enlisted people from the villages to bring her specimens. She trained her guide to tag frogs and skinks and to fix them in formalin. As her expensive camera rusted and her Western soap melted, Jackson learned what it took to swim with the snakes — and that there’s a right way and a wrong way to get a baby cobra out of a bottle.
In our age of Google Maps, it's comforting to learn that a few places remain relatively impenetrable to the outside world. Nowhere is this more true than the Congo, which has long held a fascination for explorers and scientists and continues to guard its secrets...Descriptions of ant invasions, maggots under the skin, sleepless nights, bad food and even the odd venomous snake bite all keep the pages turning. Against the odds, Jackson's efforts in the Congo eventually pay off — not only does she discover a new species, she also finds romance. This intriguing blend of science and human interest, related in a matter-of-fact style, brings to life a little-known part of the world.
About the Author
Kate Jackson is Assistant Professor of Biology at Whitman College.
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