A Harvard post-doc goes snake hunting in Africa.
Jackson’s scientific report on her survey of amphibians and reptiles in the Republic of Congo appeared last year in the online journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology. This delightful and informative book tells the rest of her story: the bureaucratic delays, insect infestations, difficulties with local people and other unexpected events during the two rainy seasons she spent collecting specimens in the little-studied swamp forest of the northern Congo. With funding from the Smithsonian, Jackson (Biology/Whitman Coll.) arrived in Brazzaville, obtained supplies and guides and set up camp outside the Lac Télé Reserve (permits to work inside the reserve never arrived) with an elderly cook and a moody 24-year-old guide. Waist-deep at times in the flooded forest, surrounded by large ants and tsetse flies, Jackson grew desperate when she was unable to find many frogs and snakes; happily, she was able to purchase more than enough specimens from the villagers, who bring them to her camp. Drawing on her journal, the author recreates the flow of her days: nocturnal frog searches, encounters with cobras, the preservation of specimens and overlong visits from curious neighbors. She also offers glimpses of the many ways—most of them ineffective—that villagers treat snakebites. (Some 20,000 Africans die each year from the bites of venomous snakes.) Just as she was planning her return home to Toronto, looking forward to some privacy in which to nurse her blistered feet and swollen ankles, Jackson found she had to leave behind more than 100 preserved animals; nothing containing DNA was permitted on a passenger plane. (The specimens flew later by DHL courier.) It took a year to prepare for her second expedition, which took her into the reserve for a month. This visit ended spectacularly—a cobra bit Jackson just days before she was scheduled to break camp.
A colorful account of field biology and essential reading for aspiring herpetologists.