REVIEW: A Living Dinosaur – On the Hunt in West Africa by Pat Spain
Pat Spain was nearly thrown in a Cameroonian prison, learned to use a long-drop toilet while a village of pygmy children watched, and was deemed “too dirty to fly” for this book.
On the Hunt in West Africa finds Bostonian Pat Spain, an inexperienced but enthusiastic traveler and wildlife biologist, on the first shoot of his new National Geographic TV series in Cameroon, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. He was told it would be his “trial by fire” for the world of wildlife TV, and soon finds that to be literally true after their decrepit pick-up truck catches fire while doing 100 MPH on a dirt road. Things only get more uncomfortable for Pat from there as he experiences the wildlife (getting charged by a silverback gorilla and having a killer bee land on his exposed penis), the food (eating rat and face-meltingly hot peppers), and some local traditions (he’s almost arrested, accidentally married, and inadvertently invites an evil forest spirit to live in the Pygmy village he’s staying in), and somehow manages (in his mind, at least) to solve the mystery of Mokele M’Bembe – a supposed living dinosaur in the riverways connecting these three countries.
Dear Mr. Spain,
The cover caught my eye but it was really the subheading “or, How I Avoided Prison but was Outsmarted by a Snail” that told me I wanted to know more about this book. Outsmarted by a snail? In reality, it was even worse but we’ll get to that.
No, I’d never heard of your National Geographic TV show that took you to various places around the world to investigate cryptozoological beasts but I might have to remedy that now. In this book, the hunt was on for Mokele M’Bembe – the “living dinosaur” that supposedly lives in western equatorial Africa.
The travel bag taken was amazing but I did have to wonder how on earth you thought that carrying a selection of knives in it to Paris and back to the UK before taking off for Cameroon was ever going to pass muster with security. I also have to be honest and say that some of your statements and descriptions about initially landing in Cameroon and your first thoughts are a bit cringe inducing. At least you acknowledge that you’re going to sound like an ignorant, wide eyed, naive American who is very much enjoying his first view of a new country and continent.
“I do realize what an American I sound like when I say this.”
Then the fun part of the book started as the crew got down to the business of traveling and filming in sometimes challenging conditions and around animals that can kill you such as elephants that rampaged through the camp one night and a group of gorillas lead by a serious badass Silverback.
Going on a hunt with Baka tribesmen led to a first world moral crisis of whether or not to participate if an endangered species ended up being flushed from the bush before realizing that this was a first world moral crisis and these men were trying to bring food back for their families. Luckily for said moral crisis, crew noise scared off most prey except for some Giant African snails – which managed to escape the crew while they were shooting b-film. Yes, I did think about that. Snails managed to escape.
Car issues, roadblocks with armed militias – official and otherwise, the crushing heat and humidity, and the toilet facilities convince me that I’m not cut out to be an intrepid around-the-world traveler. No, I’d rather watch from the comfort of home though the plethora of butterflies sounds amazing.
I agree that exploring things that might sound ridiculous at first or using some “sexy facts” to grab peoples’ attention and get them to listen is a great way to get people interested in science, animals, the outdoors, and places that need saving.
Now, does Mokele M’Bemba actually exist? I think you laid out your argument well against it but also the need for MM to exist for those who live in the area. The travelogue sections were hilarious to read about, the way that traveling through these countries changed the crew’s view of what really counts (it ain’t heated kitchen floors in a London flat) was a bit awkward but also necessary, and the scientific discussion of the “beast” in question were interesting. I’d give this a B and will look into some of the other upcoming books in the series.