By James Parry
Published Carlton Books Ltd., 2008
For some years now, we have accepted the fact that it is our duty to feel bad about the rainforest. But now we have a book with a radical new take on that notion. The implication, on every page is this: why don't we all change our minds and feel good about the rainforest?
It has become one of the accepted facts of modern life: that good-hearted people wake up in the middle of the night and feel terrible about the rainforest. Well, unquestionably, there is a lot to feel terrible about. An area the sizes of Wales is being destroyed every second. Or something like that. An area the size of Wales always comes into to it, I know. And destruction is going on all right, but you know all about that or you wouldn’t be reading this.
So here is an antidote to the rainforest blues: first, take hold of a copy of Rainforest Safari. Second, feast your eyes on the jaguar on the cover: a creature of terrible beauty. After that, continue in the same way, and savour the camouflage of the leaf insect. Be delighted by Delacour’s langur, a black monkey with a white beard. Gaze at the red-naped trogon, created on a day when God must have been stoned.
Rainforests are a joy. They are unspeakably wonderful, quite frighteningly splendid. You can find rainforests on five continents: all different, all equally weird, all equally splendid, all home to equally wonderful, equally extraordinary wildlife -- and just about every picture in this book is a celebration of them.
Is there anything on the planet, or any other planet come to that, quite as splendid as Rajah Brooke’s birdwing, a butterfly of surreal splendour? Or for that matter, anything quite as absurd as the indri, one of lemurs of Madagascar, creatures like mad leaping teddies. It was because of the indri that I first became aware of the fragility of life, when yet un-sirred David Attenborough, yet to become patron of the World Land Trust, brought us Zoo Quest to Madagascar and his pursuit of this elusive creature through the magic forests of that bizarre island. It was one of those things that shape your life without you knowing it.
I have been to a few rainforests, even to some of them featured in the book. I have been hot and sticky, I have been seriously frightened, I have been bitten to bits: and I can’t wait to go again. That’s because only in the rainforest do you get that sense of depth: that sense of mystery: that sense that life is at its best when it teems.
This is a book of teeming: the sky-reaching trees, the unbroken canopy, the incomprehensible number of species. I have probably flapped a creature unknown to science away from my face: there’s a thought. The rainforests are nature’s masterpiece: and this book is a glorious celebration. Show just about any picture in the book to friend who fails to share your passion for wildlife and you will get the answer: “I see what you mean, now.”
As we know, the world is on the brink of catastrophe, as much because of rainforest destruction as anything else, but I’m not going to talk about that. I just want you to savour, for a moment, not what is terrible but what is beautiful.
There is a sense of privilege in this view. Those of us who have bought the odd acre of rainforest through the World Land Trust know that the world is not saved at stroke by our generosity. But a donation does permit at least one kind of miracle: it should at least, give us the privilege to look at the rainforest without guilt. The next donation to WLT should be because we feel good about the rainforest.
Review by Simon Barnes