First off perhaps I should mention ‘ages’ is a bit generous. It’s more from the 60’s to the 90’s. But hopefully that won’t mire the thread too much!
‘The Serengeti Lion: A study of predator-prey relations’ George Schaller - 1967
It’s hard to set down what separates Schaller from other writers of scientific wildlife studies, but Serengeti Lion is one of the best examples. To begin the book is essentially a giant research paper, but perhaps with more anecdotes, descriptions and photographic plates that many papers are often bereft of. It is formally written to avoid patronisation, but isn’t mired with confusing or intimidating (even to a fellow scientist in prep) differential statistics. Despite the formal tone the writing is open, easy to understand and whilst scientific terminology if often used it is not overly complicated stuff. The look into the lion’s life is detailed and intimate, with no stone unturned, though the main meat of the book being social and hunting behaviour. These sections also supplemented with line drawings and tables to help convey masses of information collected over the three years.
Schaller also writes of the other predators; the leopard, cheetah and wild dog (the spotted hyaenas was studied and written about by Hans Kruuk in ‘The Spotted Hyena’, and Schaller worked with Kruuk at the time) and whilst their sections are shorter they are still highly fascinating and every bit as well written. Looking at the predator guild also gives a better understanding of overall ecosystem rather than focusing on a single species.
Further positive press :
"This book conveys not only the fascination of its particular study of lion behavior but the drama and wonder and beauty of the intimate interdependence of all living things." - Saturday Review
"If you have only enough time to read one book about field biology, this is the one I recommend." - Edward O. Wilson, Science
"This is an important book, not just for its valuable information on lions, but for its broad, open, and intelligent approach to problems that cut across the fields of behavior, populations, ecology, wildlife management, evolution, anthropology, and comparative biology." - Richard G. Van Gelder, Bioscience
"By the time the reader has finished this book, the Serengeti, its landscapes, seasons, and wildlife, takes shape in the mind as a complex and epic poem, each part a function of every other part and each part a function of the whole." - George Stade, New York Times Book Review"
Pride of Lions, Brian Bertram - 1978
Schaller’s Serengeti successor, Bertram’s book obviously suffers a bit from having such an excellent predecessor. Bertram still works hard to differentiate the books however. Swiftly he makes it clear his study was focused more in the Lobo area of acacia woodland over the open Seronera area. Also, as with any safari different sightings and observations were made and original tidbits of interesting behaviour or anecdote are here in the book. It is written informally, no doubt as Bertram thought the public wouldn’t be interested in another scientific tome. Unfortunately as Schaller’s is such easy reading it doesn’t feel like a lot of drier monographs, but should anyone find reading it hard work a wealth of information on Serengeti lions can be found here. Overall though, even if you aren’t a hardcore lion aficionado or already own Schaller’s book, Pride of Lions is still interesting and well written enough to deserve a place of the book shelf.
The Lions Share, Jeannette Hanby - 1982
Bertram’s successor, Hanby’s story is just that, a story. Unlike the prior two books which were for formal and gentle education, this is much the more the descriptive story of a Serengeti pride. Terminology is absent, animal nicknames are often used and there is no mention of what the overall study goal is. David Bygott litters the book with numerous, beautiful charcoal illustrations in lieu of plates that compliment the well-written text. The focus is on the Sametu pride, though other animals get occasional pages devoted to them - often wild dogs - and the influence of Goodall’s and Van Lawick’s writing style can be seen as Bygott studied with them in Gombe. The writing and art style remind me of Van Lawick’s book ‘Solo’. A short read that can probably be accomplished in a long afternoon and late evening, it provides another excellent chapter to the Serengeti Lion Research.
Into Africa, Craig Packer - 1996 - And additional thoughts on literature of wildlife.
Into Africa is Craig Packer’s autobiographical journey across East Africa. Starting and ending in the Serengeti with lions, with the middle section on rainforest life and primates at Jane Goodall’s research facility. In this book it could be said that the wildlife plays second fiddle to the author here. Fortunately Packer is an interesting man and a good writer, and it is more his experiences with Africa than writing about himself. The Serengeti sections deal with the trials of research and with studying lions, especially in the day when moving isn’t high on their agenda. The sections of Gombe deals with living in the forest environment. What may stay with the reader are the interesting but stomach turning encounters with illness and parasites, all vividly described. the animals themselves are still written of, the discussion of lion infanticide and it first being filmed are highly interesting.
But something appears across these texts. The progression of scientific monograph, to informal research book, to a study story to a borderline autobiography. Science writing seems to have changed. Perhaps one could say Schaller’s original book was so good it intimidated others of scientific texts for fear of redundancy. Perhaps. But it isn’t just lions. With the occasional exception behavioural monographs from the last 15 years are now very rare. Another cause could well be the change of study methods used. Packer used a lot of direct observation, but for different goals for Schaller, Bertram or Hygott and also used a lot more modern technology.* Observation of animals is perhaps becoming an endangered species as camera traps, GPS collars, statistics and scat analysis take over in a lot of modern papers. This, I would suggest, could be less interesting to the general public. National Geographic used to have articles written by zoologists like Kruuk, Goodall and Schaller; nowadays it seems to be who can snap the prettiest pictures. Documentaries are now rarely documenting nature with zoological backup as was the days of Alan Root, but seem to be more about HD or 3D and how best to show this off. Is Zoology becoming less personal as technology has a greater influence? And are the public switching off to the scientific side of nature?
* In a later book, Tibet Wild, Schaller himself discusses the ‘new age’ of zoological techniques.
Further reading from George Schaller
Serengeti : Kingdom Of Predators - 1973
The non-scientific condensation of Serengeti Lion, I would still say Kingdom of Predators is excellent reading.For one it goes perhaps into even greater detail on the other predators of the park (after all Panthera Leo bagged top billing in the monograph). Schaller is able to slip the rare opinion and bit of humour into his monograph, but here does he fully let his emotional appreciation of East Africa’s hunters go forth in excellent prose. The book still has enough good information to be considered popular science, and probably enough great colour photographs to be considered a coffee table book, but it is the anecdotes and sightings and encounters, spectacularly written and followed by poignant thoughts that I would say make the book stand out.
Golden Shadows, Flying Hooves - 1973
With 2 other books of the same scientific expedition, one would be forgiven for thinking there is little left to say from Schaller on the Serengeti. But reading Golden Shadows swiftly dispels such myths. As Kingdom of Predators elaborated Serengeti’s carnivores, Golden Shadows elaborates the other wildlife, especially the ubiquitous wildebeest and it’s migration and calving season. Schaller’s pets are also given detailed and endearing biographies; a warthog, a banded mongoose and a lion cub respectively. It also goes into further detail of the Serengeti community at the time and extended research. One chapter is devoted to a week where Schaller and colleagues lived as primitive man may have, testing experiments to see how our earliest ancestors survived in the landscape. Another is in detail of the warden, Myles Turner, and anti-poaching efforts of the time. When all his works from East Africa are read together, Golden Shadows feels like the final, satisfying chapter of a fascinating point of zoological discovery.
Edited by Big_Dog, 07 June 2014 - 09:38 PM.