THE BEST OF FRIENDS by John Aspinall


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When I make love I gurgle like a gorilla; when in pain, I have been known to mew like a rhinoceros. On occasion I have even found myself unconsciously greeting friends with a tiger's welcoming purr."" And when he writes, he sounds like an ass. Aspinall, a maverick who made his fortune at London's gambling tables, invested his winnings in Howletts, a zoo in Kent which specializes in breeding wild animals--its lowland gorilla and tiger populations have been especially successful. This episodic record of his eighteen-year venture, despite the considerable appeal of its good-natured cast, is nonetheless weighed down by the personality of its author and his overbearing presence. His bias is clear throughout: ""I suppose [wildlife workers] have a greater empathic reach than other men and are less prone to the besetting sin of hubris."" Certainly his wives and associates have extended themselves and their intensive observations have paid off. But the contradictions are puzzling: he worries that ""wild nature is shrinking,"" yet slept with a tiger for eighteen months; and he actively seeks funds, yet writes cavalierly of one gorilla, ""He has destroyed dozens of my finest cashmeres during the past year."" Dozens? Those who dream of cuddling tiger cubs or strolling with gorillas will love the pictures of Aspinall and staff at play with their charges but only the most rabid readers will put up with the starched prose and righteous posture.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row