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Monday, June 17, 2019


I enjoyed the book from start to finish – there’s a chuckle on every page. (Review by Caroline Smart)

In his fascinating book about animals, rodents, birds, amphibians and insects, to name a few, author David Muirhead has provided a wealth of information mixed with ironic humour.

Cat Among the Pigeons is described as another batch of Muirhead’s “unrespectable creatures”, following his successful earlier volume of hilarious animal accounts. It is subtitled “animal myths, musings and matters of fact.”

Muirhead lives in Vermont in the Western Cape and his observations and descriptions reveal someone who has a great respect and understanding of the natural world.

I enjoyed the book from start to finish – there’s a chuckle on every page and I make no excuses for sharing direct quotations from the book:

Here’s a perfect example – The Hadeda: “The hadeda’s name is Onomatopoeic, derived from its raucous and distinctive voice. People prefer hadeda to the species’ scientific name Boftrychia Hagedash because nobody wants to sound inebriated by pronouncing that mouthful.”

Describing the “Killer Whale”, he explains that when the first captive orcas were installed in tanks and harbour enclosures how aquarium directors were surprised, at “just how docile and friendly the toothy giant turned out to be. It was even possible to plop scantily-clad young women into the same pond without fear that they would be touched inappropriately, let alone snapped up like canapés.”

Talking about the “sheer good looks” of the Springbok, he adds that “these antelopes seem to know they were really born for the swanky salons of Paris, London and Milan.”

The Waterbuck – “The common waterbuck’s most distinctive sartorial feature is, of course, the white ring on its backside, the subject of tired jokes about wet paint and toilet seats.”

African Penguins – “have become totems for the conservation movement. Wobbling about on land, dressed in their coat and tails and bustling about with domestic chores, they are reminiscent of miniature butlers and like any good butler, they are much more respectable than us.”

African Buffalo – “It’s not nice to be known for one’s diseases but buffalos bear the burden with characteristic stoicism. Included in the list of lethal ailments, which they can pass on to domestic cattle, are corridor disease, foot-and-mouth and bovine tuberculosis. They are second only to giraffe for their propensity to stand and stare, often in the middle of the road when you are in a hurry to get to the camp toilets.”

Pangolin - … “a mammal covered in scales, with no teeth and a tongue that is rooted somewhere near its pelvis. The whole assembly was basically designed to eat ants and to curl up when threatened looking like a hybrid between a football and a giant artichoke.”

Cuckoo – “In his handbook on elementary clockmaking, written in 1669, Domenico Martinelli proposed that the call of a cuckoo be used to indicate the passing hours.”

Cape Town-based artist Patricia de Villiers has created pen-and-ink drawings to accompany some of the subjects. The chapters are about four to five pages long so it’s an easy book to pick up and read at will.

Cat Among the Pigeons is published in paperback by Struik Nature. ISBN 9781775845133 - Recommended price R180.00 - Caroline Smart