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What better way to find inspiration than sinking your teeth into a great book? As we head into summer holidays and the festive season, the Wild team select their best reads – from riveting to sad and humorous. Best of all? We are giving away a copy of each!

Romi Boom, Wild magazine editor

Following a dream is the golden thread that runs through the three books I recommend as holiday reading this year. Passion for wildlife jumps from the pages! Yet it’s a very different African journey for each of the authors.

Bushvet. My Hidden Battles to Save Wildlife. bushvet-my-hidden-battles-to-save-wildlifeBy Clay Wilson with Tony Park. Umuzi/Random House Struik. 2013. R220. 

American veterinarian Dr Clay Wilson, South African born and with a degree from Onderstepoort, wants nothing more than to treat wild animals in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. He offers his services as a volunteer without remuneration. Lack of funding means that he pays for laboratory tests and vaccines out of his own pocket. Tranquilliser darts, anaesthetic agents, antibiotics and pain medication, cardiac monitors, syringes and needles, fuel, maintenance of vehicles cost big money. All too soon his life savings are depleted.

“Wildlife is, in my opinion, the most important issue in the world,” he says. Yet his work situation becomes increasingly bogged down in red tape. When he happens upon ivory poachers in the act, he gets shot at – and then arrested and deported, for his troubles.

Shortly after the publication of this book, Dr Clay Wilson passed away after an extended battle with pancreatitis. His life story, healing animals for 30 years and as a renowned international wildlife consultant, makes for riveting reading. Highly recommended.

The Big Cat Man. An autobiography. the-big-cat-man-an-autobiographyBy Jonathan Scott. Bradt/Jacana. 2016. R355. 

As presenter of Big Cat Diary on BBC, over a 12-year period, Jonathan Scott became a familiar face to lovers of wildlife. He has won the World Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and published 30 books, latterly with his award-winning photographer wife, Angela. From their bases in Nairobi and the Maasai Mara, they travel widely in Africa, Asia and Antarctica, hosting safari and photographic holidays.

Having met the charming couple at the 2016 Wild Shots event in Cape Town, it is obvious that theirs is a love story in true romantic tradition. It sounds like a dream life, yet the health issues that affect both Jonathan and Angie cast a shadow. So too the threats to the Maasai Mara, the most troubling of which appears to be the grazing rights for cattle being claimed by pastoralists. The needs of people can be overwhelming, and Jonathan does not hesitate to spill the beans – also about his own demons, ever since his childhood in Britain.

With anecdotes and humour aplenty, the book will entertain and inspire. The wildlife illustrations by Jonathan are a special treat from a hugely talented artist and enthralled me no end.

Elephant Dawn. The inspirational story of elephant-dawnthirteen years living with elephants in the African wilderness. By Sharon Pincott. Jacana. 2016. R260.

Australian Sharon Pincott gave up a high-flying corporate job to relocate to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, where she formed one of the most remarkable bonds ever with wild elephants. Untrained and unpaid, the idealistic Sharon proved to be an elephant whisperer. “It was always such a privilege,” she writes, “when mothers brought their babies right to the door of my 4×4 and stayed beside me for hours.”

Her 13-year battle to protect the Presidential Elephants has been profiled on National Geographic and BBC Wildlife. Having read both of Sharon’s previous books, namely The Elephants and I: Pursuing a Dream in Troubled Zimbabwe (2009) and Battle for the President’s Elephants: Life, Lunacy and Elation in the African Bush (2012), I was ready for more of Sharon’s adventures – and heartbreak.

Her vulnerability as a lone woman in the bush is an emotional roller-coaster, especially when her friends depart one by one as the situation worsens. Yet she is resilient and courageous to the very end. This is a sad book and guaranteed to produce a lump in the throat, if not tears.

Magriet Kruger, Wild magazine deputy editor

Dr Jack’s Third Illustrated South African Byrd Book. Struik Nature. 2016. R120.

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This book is a delightful gift for the birder in your life. Even the most committed twitcher won’t have seen all the feathered creatures in this collection by well-known cartoonist Dr Jack. His depictions of South African birds are done with humour and originality, from the winsome woolly-necked stork with knitting needles to the curmudgeonly grey go-away-bird. I particularly enjoyed the African emerald cuckoo popping out of its Ndebele-style clock. With 70 inventive illustrations to pour over, you’ll be hard pressed to choose just one favourite.

Dr Jack’s work will be familiar to readers of Pretoria News and the Mail & Guardian, but did you know he was once official artist for South Africa’s National Parks Board? A keen birder himself, Dr Jack’s passion for the natural world shines through in every drawing.

Wild as it Gets. By Don Pinnock. Tafelberg. 2016. R240.

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Subtitled Wanderings of a Bemused Naturalist, this book by former Getaway editor Don Pinnock considers a wide range of questions and puzzles about the natural world. How do birds compose their songs? Where do turtles go when they leave the beach where they were born? What can we learn from an Iron Age tribe? These are the type of topics I wish we could’ve dealt with at school. Pinnock revels in facts that are outrageous and stories that illuminate our place in the ecosystem.

The book’s collection of essays are organised around five themes: astounding facts about the planet, wildlife, wild places, our wild selves, and the brilliant minds that have unlocked the wonders of wilderness. It’s the perfect reading matter to keep on your bedside table and dip into from time to time. You’ll find yourself entertained, intrigued and, above all, inspired by nature.

Wildlife of Southern Africa. A field guide to the animals and plants of the region. Edited by Vincent Carruthers. Struik Nature. 2016. R300. 

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Do you find yourself lugging around multiple field guides? Or struggling to choose which ones to pack and which to leave behind? Then you should drop hints that you’d like this all-in-one guide under the Christmas tree. Edited by environmentalist Vincent Carruthers, Wildlife of Southern Africa is a compact field guide to the fauna and flora of the region.

Originally published in 1997, the new edition has been revised to reflect name changes. More than half of the species listed have had their names amended in the intervening years! Individual chapters, each written by an expert in the field, are colour coded for ease of use. They cover spiders, insects, freshwater fish, frogs, reptiles, birds, mammals, grasses, flowers and trees – plus a chapter on lower invertebrates (snails and millipedes). The text is concise, focusing on attributes that will help with identification, while the illustrations are richly detailed. At just over 330 pages, it’s a relatively slim volume that won’t weigh your backpack down.

Arnold Ras, Wild digital editor

The Bedside Ark. By David Muirhead. Struik. 2016. R160. the-bedside-ark_cover

What a gem of a read! As the title implies, The Bedside Ark is the ideal book to take to bed. And believe me, this book is packed with giggles as the author educates and shares his personal encounters with 42 of South Africa’s strangest and most fascinating animal species. This book is a wholesome read for the whole family – it’s so delightful to learn and laugh all at once. Some of the wacky featured animals include the aardvark, seahorse, mole rat and dung beetle. In the chapter on bats, David writes: “The good news is that none of them has ever heard of Dracula, let alone Gotham City.” Do I need to say more?

Blacks DO Caravan. By Fikile Hlatshwayo. Jacana. 2016. R225.

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As an online nature, wildlife and travel journalist, I often hear my black friends exclaim: “You probably camp a lot. I would rather die!” How can camping be enjoyable when the basics of camping – shared ablutions, cooking over a fire and no electricity – are synonymous with hard times? Fikile, “a sophisticated and highly successful black woman comfortable in high heels and suits” was determined to change this. With her husband and two children, she visited 60 caravan and camping spots in national parks and reserves around South Africa: 25,000km, nine provinces. This is not just a tale of one woman cracking down on stereotypes, but finding personal meaning away from modern life’s exhausting demands.

Kalahari Summer in Photographs and Oils. By Robert Grogan. Random House Struik. R270.

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Celebrate summer – and the Kalahari’s timeless beauty – with landscape painter and wildlife photographer Robert Grogan. What makes this book so special is the interplay between paintings and photography, culminating in a visual journey of the landscape’s fauna and flora. For more than 30 years Robert has been inspired by the Kalahari and this heartfelt passion for one of South Africa’s most enchanting destinations is very much evident in each and every painting and picture. This coffee-table book is a must.

Most wanted keepsake

Roberts Bird Guide Second Edition. By Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies and Ingrid Weiersbye. The John Voelcker Bird Book Fund/Jacana. 2016. Flexi-cover R280, Hardcover R320. Afrikaans edition to be published in 2017. roberts-bird-guide

The new Roberts, at an extremely affordable price, has been completely reworked. So what’s new?

  • The artwork, with vivid details of seasonal, age and sexual differences in 240 annotated colour plates.
  • The distribution maps, with breeding and seasonality bars.
  • A selection of colour photographs which work in tandem with the illustrations.
  • For species that are notoriously difficult to identify, for example the small, dull warblers, a full page with line drawings show distinctive wing features.
  • Line drawings used alongside colour photographs to facilitate identification e.g. nightjar identification through a comparison of three feathers.
  • At-a-glance comparisons, for example of non-breeding hornbill heads, male and female. Ditto falcon and kestrel illustrations, showing adult and juvenile heads. Ditto goshawk and sparrowhawk comparisons.

This is the definitive field guide for birders, experienced and novice alike. The standard of the artwork makes it a fabulous gift for non-birders too. It’s hefty, it’s comprehensive, it’s beautiful, and it’s an absolute must-have.

Want to win copies?

To win one of these books, email the title of your favourite read to [email protected]. Remember to include your full names, postal address and contact details. The competition closes on 14 January 2017. Wild will randomly select the winners. Winners will be notified via email. Take note that the chosen winner of Kalahari Summer in Photographs and Oils by Robert Grogan will receive his/her book in March 2017 only – the author is abroad until February 2017.

WINNERS: Dana Bekker, Caroline Barrow, Michele Frederick, Marge Oelofse, Domenico Messina, Exul le Roux, Robyn Kipps, June Williams and Nadene Hayward

*Feature picture by Shutterstock