World Animal Day: Guest Post from ‘Wild Lives’ author Ben Lerwill.
October 4th is a very special day. It is World Animal Day – a chance for every one of us to raise awareness of the other creatures who share our planet. This is a sentiment I believe in as a vegetarian and friend to animals.
Ben Lerwill is a travel writer, whose love of wildlife comes from the amount of time he spends outdoors. Wild Lives is his first book for young people, and it tells the stories of 50 amazing animals throughout history. From the two male penguins who hatched an egg to Elsa the lioness who changed the way we think about conservation, the stories in this book prove just how much we can learn by looking at other animals.
In his guest post, Ben Lerwill talks about three of the places which informed his stories. From Tasmanian streams to the mountains and beaches right on our doorstep, he teaches us that animal encounters can be found just about anywhere in the world.
Thanks to Ben Lerwill for your time, and to Catherine Ward PR for organising.
Guest post from Wild Lives author Ben Lerwill.
Gathering together the 50 stories that make up WildLives has been enormously enjoyable, largely because it’s allowed me to bring in animals from all over the world. There’s a wolf, an orca, a giraffe, a silverback gorilla, a red-tailed hawk… we even managed to fit a giant tortoise in there!
Part of my passion for the project came from spending the past 15 years as a travel writer for different magazines and newspapers. I’m extraordinarily lucky that this has led to some unforgettable wildlife encounters, from watching penguins in Antarctica to tracking chimpanzees in East Africa. Selecting just three of the most memorable experiences is difficult – but I’ve given it a go.
Kakadu National Park, Australia
Few places in the world rate so highly for wildlife as Australia. I have family living out there, so it’s somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time. Where animals are concerned, the joy lies in the variety: platypuses drifting down Tasmanian streams, cassowaries high-stepping through Queensland rainforests, red kangaroos hopping across the Outback. The book’s adorable Aussie representative is Sam, a koala who survived a horrific forest fire.
But topping the list, for me, are the saltwater crocodiles of Kakadu, a magically expansive national park in the Northern Territory. Five or six years ago, I joined an early morning sailing along the park’s Yellow Water Billabong. Our small boat was the only vessel out. The day was warm and still, with egrets in the shallows and eagles overhead. Then the crocs appeared. The sight of ton-weight dinosaurs basking in the mud, slithering into the water and swishing their thick, tree-trunk tails within feet of the boat was impossibly thrilling.
Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire
I’m an ardent believer in the fact that you don’t have to venture outside of the UK for a fantastic travel experience. We live in a truly spectacular part of the world – for proof, you need only look at the peaks of Snowdonia, the coast of County Antrim, the islands of Scotland or the hills of the Peak District. Our wildlife is fantastic too, whether you’re spotting otters in Shetland or snorkelling with seals in Scilly. And the birdlife, of course, can be sensational.
For me, the seabird nesting season is my birdwatching highlight of the year. I’ve gone in search of puffins everywhere from Orkney to Northern Ireland, but my all-time highlight was a two-night trip to Skomer Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire. It’s a birdlife bonanza – not just puffins, but huge numbers of guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and gannets too. Watching them all circling above the waves, on a small, high-cliffed island miles from the mainland, is truly special. At night, meanwhile, Skomer gets taken over by more than half a million Manx shearwater – which is as mind-boggling as it sounds.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Most wildlife-centred trips to Uganda focus on the mountain gorillas in the brilliantly named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Mine certainly did, and I found the experience of seeing a troop up close almost overwhelming. However, a trip further north to Queen Elizabeth National Park has also seared itself into my memory. This was, I think, mainly because I had almost no expectations, so was rather giddy to find a wildlife reserve not only packed with animals but low on other visitors.
The park’s Kazinga Channel is a long, wide waterway, where the banks were alive with elephants, warthogs and great honking pods of hippos. The real highlight came on one early-morning game drive, however, when we spotted a herd of panicked deer skittering over the plains in the distance. Minutes later, we crested a hill to see the cause of the commotion – a stunning leopardess, no more than ten metres away, her spotted coat glowing in the dawn light.
No leopards feature in WildLives, but we’ve made space for a tiger and two lions – because no animal book would be complete without a few big cats.
Wild Lives by Ben Lerwill, illustrated by Sarah Walsh, is out now, published by Nosy Crow £16.99 hardback.