A residing belief amongst conservationists is that people will only save that which they love, but it is all too easy for us to become enamoured with charismatic megafauna – think lions, tigers and bears. Here, the world’s lesser known critters, perhaps less loved, are put in the spotlight to help show our planet’s diversity and – in their own way – its beauty.
Before opening this book, I had expected that its central joy would come – as with other Reviews I have written – from simply opening at a random page and learning what you may.
However, having done both that, and read from the cover, it is clear that author Sami Bayly has compiled page upon page of wondrous content that makes a read through from start to finish, and a classic coffee table publication thereafter, perhaps most apt.
For this is not a book that ebbs and flows between interest and filler. Each page – whether you already know of the creature or not – is filled with thoughtfully curated facts, highlights on its conservation status and, of course, Bayly’s fantastic illustrations which bring these ‘ugly’ animals to life.
Bayly is quick at the start to note that the term ugly is used in somewhat of a tongue in cheek, or educational, tone. These species have evolved these traits over thousands, sometimes millions, of years, making them beautiful in their evolutionary accomplishment if nothing else.
From the bulbous Black rain frog (Breviceps fuscus), looking like your grandpa caught in a storm on his walk, to the Tardigrade (Tardigrade), famous for its survival of 10 days in the radiation-filled vacuum of space, the pages are both enjoyable and somewhat haunting. Enjoyable for the unique brilliance of each species, haunting for the frequent classification of endangerment.
There are over 60 species across 119 pages, including the likes of the Maleo, the Sarcastic fringehead, the Goblin shark and the Aye-aye. There are countless lessons for both the well-traveled naturalist and those that can’t name animals outside their cats and dogs.
As Bayly’s first published book, she can be proud of the contribution she has made to a long history of the combination of art and facts in education. But equally, she has delivered a hard-cover issue beautiful in its clear message; enjoyable in its unassuming ease of reading; precious in its pictorial representation of our extraordinary planetary friends; critical in its highlighting of human-induced threats.
This book won’t quite fit in the Christmas stocking, but if there are children in your life or people fascinated with the natural world, it would not be out of place under the tree.
Five Key Quotes
“The attributes that we see as ‘ugly’ almost always have a purpose or function that the animals have adapted over many years to assist them throughout their lives and with their survival.”
“The biggest threat facing the American manatee is human.”
“The word orangutan translates to ‘man of the forest’ in Malay and Indonesian.”
“The [Giant] anteater has survived for 25 million years on earth, yet in the last 10 years, it has started to disappear at a rapid rate through land loss, poaching and road accidents.”
“[Tardigrades] are so resilient, they have survived 5 mass extinctions over the last 5 hundred million years.”