Tuatara: Volume 15, Issue 3, December 1967
Review — Animals of New Zealand
Animals of New Zealand
An Old Adage has it that ‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread’; and people hearing that a non-zoologist has had the audacity to write a book on the animals of New Zealand might be led to believe that the author must indeed be a fool if ever there was one. Well, don't be taken in. The author is an arts graduate with—I understand—an M.A. in English; but she has also done some biology in her degree—not that this short incursion into biology is of itself adequate background to launch a project such as the one under review. However, she comes from a family steeped in N.Z. biology, and during her lifetime has obviously saturated herself with knowledge about N.Z. fauna from scientific works, from teaching it at Correspondence School, and from getting out in the field and ‘doing it herself’. I doubt if any practising biologist in N.Z. would have a background quite like hers with which to undertake a similar project. This knowledge of field zoology and her ability to communicate it to the reader have produced a work of value.
This book is written not for the qualified zoologist but for the uninitiated, the interested and the enquiring—both young and old. So one must not look at this book solely through the eyes of a critical zoologist. Although I can claim some familiarity with sections of zoology, I am not a zoologist: but I think that hardly matters. In not being close to the dissecting board I am perhaps better able to view this work in a wide context than perhaps a zoologist could because of his occupational hazard—specialisation. Due to this, many see only the trees and not the wood.
It must always be remembered that the best laboratory in the world is right outside our windows; but it is regrettable that many familiar with it have not done much about writing a manual to acquaint the interested and the enquiring with its contents. To my mind, Sheila Natusch's book is to be regarded as a laboratory manual—the laboratory in this case being the N.Z. fauna. I think she has done a wonderful job, and untold numbers of people—maybe generations—are going to be grateful to her for having the foresight to recognise this lack, and more particularly the intestinal fortitude to fill it. Now at last those interested in N.Z. animals can go to a bookseller and buy off the shelf a book that will assist them greatly in the identification and classification of the native animals around them. The only thing I lament is that the book is about 25 years too late. Who knows, but had I access when young to a book about N.Z. animals such as this one. I might have been a zoologist and not a botanist. And again, who knows how many others might have made a similar decision to be zoologist had they been able to browse in a book like this.
Another thing I like about the book is that the zoology does not come out in large indigestible hunks, rolled in choking terminology and all served up cold in a constipated style of writing. Right throughout there is an enchanting use of the best seasoning and aperitifs one can obtain—personal experience and anecdote, which make the subject matter incomparably more appealing than much of the scientific writing one has to stomach. There is also a glossary of terms at the back which will be very useful indeed.
If we understood triggering mechanisms and how they work in animals we would come to know a great deal about animal behaviour. Likewise, page 182 if we knew something about triggering mechanisms in the intellectual stimulation of our young folk, we might be able to recruit many more scientists by applying the right triggers at the right time. Quite often the triggers are applied unconsciously through experiences and contact with Nature; but what is so often started is quite often quenched almost immediately because there is no easily available means of follow-up to perpetuate the interest. Here again, Mrs. Natusch has anticipated the necessity and has provided many references for further reading for those whose appetite has been whetted.
I sincerely hope that necessity demands the appearance of a second edition; and if this is so, there are two suggestions I would make. First, I think a map of N.Z. should be included, not only for the benefit of buyers who are not N.Z.-based but also for the indigenous folk, because it is really surprising how many of us are hazy about our own coastline and other geographical features. For a little extra effort this map could show the main biological zones of N.Z. This inclusion would add little to the cost. The second suggestion may be more costly to implement but I think it would be worth while. Seeing that the book is directed to those unfamiliar with zoological terms, it would be useful to give phonetic pronunciations with stress accents of some of the more difficult words. With this aid it would be easier to mouth such words as ‘Sipunculoidea’, ‘Eulamellibranchiata’, ‘Recurvirostridae’; and who but the initiated would know that the ‘g’ of Chaetognatha was silent, similarly the ‘p’ in Apterygota and ‘C’ in Ctenophora.
One can almost hear the symphony of sighs of the secondary school teaching fraternity when they become aware of the fact that a book of this nature is at last available. They will now have easy access to a reference work that is going to eliminate a lot of conjecture and calculated guessing. No doubt many mothers and fathers will also be very pleased to include this book in their reference library. Now they will be able to refer their enquiring offspring to ‘Animals of New Zealand’ to look for the answer that will eliminate the embarrassment of admitting once more that the fountain of family knowledge is running dry. And who knows but that some parents might also respond to triggering mechanisms and find through being forced to read this book that the Laboratory outside contains untold things of interest, and that they are not too old for adventure and enjoyment in these Elysian fields.