Previous readers of this blog may recall my love of Gerald Durrell’s classic autobiographical account of his childhood spent in Coru, My Family and Other Animals – a real treat of a book. Anyway, my wife managed to pick up some old Penguin editions of a couple of his other books, including this: The Bafut Beagles.

For anyone who has not come across Gerald Durrell before, he was a British naturalist, zookeeper and conservationist, who undertook numerous animal expeditions around the globe. This particular book tells the story of his collecting expedition to the British Cameroons (now Cameroon), made in 1949.

The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell

After the war, the young Durrell had joined the staff at Whipsnade Zoo as a junior keeper, however it was not long before he became eager to participate in exploratory animal expeditions. The particular expedition described in this book was only his second trip, and its purpose was to locate and bring back to British zoos certain exotic species for further study.

During much of the expedition, Durrell lived with the Bafut tribe in the Northwest Province. As with My Family and Other Animals, you learn almost as much about the people Durrell meets as the animals. Durrell evidently became very fond of his African hosts, and the book is named after the group of “hunters” who would accompany him on his excursions to catch (but certainly never kill) various species of mammal, bird and amphibian.

Many curious creatures make their way into Durrell’s entertaining narrative, including an assortment of snakes, hairy frogs, and galagos. Then there are dancing (and non-dancing) monkeys, White-Faced Scops Owls and flying mice. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also the Stranger’s squirrel, the Rock Hyrax and various other exotic creatures that I have probably forgotten.

As well as the accounts of all of these intriguing creatures, Durrell’s narrative is also interspersed with some great vignettes taken from the life of the Bafut tribe. It was during this particular trip that Durrell met the colourful chieftain of the area, the Fon of Bafut, Achirimbi II. The Fon was a man of considerable power in the region and was duly treated with respect and reverence by his tribe. This fact notwithstanding though, during his time living amongst the people of Bafut, Durrell got to know the chieftain well, and portrays him to be a warm-hearted, fun-loving man when not performing his stately duties. Here is an amusing extract of Durrell’s first introduction to the great man (and his love of strong liquor):

I had by now absorbed quite a quantity of mombo [local alcoholic drink] and was feeling more than ordinarily benign; it seemed to have much the same effect on the Fon. He barked a sudden order, and, to my horror, a table was produced on which reposed two glasses and a bottle of gin, a French brand that I had never heard of, and whose acquaintance I am not eager to renew. The Fon poured out about three inches of gin into a glass and handed it to me; I smiled and tried to look as though gin, neat and in large quantities, was just what I had been wanting. I smelt it gingerly, and found that it was not unlike one of the finer brands of paraffin.

In fact, Durrell ended up forming a close friendship with the Fon, which lasted many years.

I found The Bafut Beagles to be a great read, full of adventure, interest and humour. I would certainly recommend it. If you too liked this, you might also enjoy: Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.

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