THE DELUGE AND THE ARK: A Journey into Primate Worlds by Dale Peterson
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THE DELUGE AND THE ARK: A Journey into Primate Worlds

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Splendid blend of travel narrative, natural history notebook, and musings on men and monkeys, as Peterson (A Mad People's History of Madness--not reviewed) wanders the world in search of primates on the brink of extinction. Part of the charm here is Peterson's willingness to make a monkey of himself (landing in Brazil in Boston garb, he walks the beach and finds ""no one--no one!--wearing so many clothes or looking so uncomfortable""). The plight of primates, on the other hand, is for Peterson serious business--reason enough to undertake a queer sort of grail quest. In Brazil, he tracks down the muriqui (only 400 left) and golden lion tamarin; in Sierra Leone, the black-and-white colubus (often seen in America transformed into a cape or hat or muff); in Rwanda, the mountain gorilla; in Madagascar, the aye-aye (so elusive that Peterson was content to glimpse its reflective eyes in the night); in India, the lion-tailed macaque; in Borneo, the orangutan; in America, Koko the ""talking"" gorilla, who admires Peterson's golden dental crown. Peterson bulks out his hunt for primates by vividly painting the odd humans along his exotic itinerary (in India, a beggar girl with a golden arrow piercing her tongue); the narrative itself is framed by valuable material on primate ethology, the history of primate hunting and primate research, and extended passages on forest ecology. Peterson concludes with much sage advice (although some stomachs may lurch over his proposal to harvest capybaras, the world's largest rodent, in lieu of cattle). He favors a judicious interplay of tourism and wildlife preservation; ""particularly exacting medical standards"" when using primates for research; intelligent ""captive breeding"" programs in zoos; an end to wanton deforestation--and a recognition amongst humans that primates are our closest kin, and that in saving them, we save ourselves. First-rate.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin