An intrepid herpetologist’s account of his grueling collection-based forays into the Congo.
For Greenbaum (Evolutionary Genetics/Univ. of Texas, El Paso), who has faced the extraordinary challenges of conducting biodiversity exploration in the Congo Basin, the next challenge is educating the general public about its importance. In his foreboding words, “if the public does not understand biodiversity science, then continuing mass extinction, including the human species, is inevitable.” The author’s first book is not just packed with high adventures; it also contains meditations on gorillas, conservation, the global ecosystem, climate change, and mass extinctions. Readers will learn how a herpetologist works in the wild and why finding and identifying species is so important. Greenbaum tells of his two 10-week expeditions in 2008 and 2009 inside the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, which he calls “the holy grail of unknown biodiversity in Africa.” With a team of Congolese helpers, he carried on his collecting work in tropical forests, on mountainsides, and in swamps while suffering debilitating illnesses, coping with breakdowns, paying bribes, and encountering armed militia. “For centuries,” he writes, “Central Africa has been a paradoxical combination of mystery, danger, and exotic allure” and a rumored source of both “amazing riches” and “rumors of certain death.” Despite setbacks, the author happily plunged into his work of collecting, identifying, and preserving frogs, lizards, skinks, snakes, chameleons, and other reptiles. He includes photos of many of these animals, his band of helpers, the people they met, the lands they traveled through, and even their expedition truck mired in deep mud. The small maps are not especially helpful, but the narrative is smooth and engaging, effectively showing the natural wonder of the Congo—and its fragility.
Greenbaum’s enthusiasm for his work shines through, as does his compelling message about the future of our planet.