Like our friend, here, I am all puffed up with excitement.
I have recently been commissioned by LitUp! to write a story for the readers of Hamworthy Library. As part of the ‘Tailored Tales’ scheme run by LitUp! in Bournemouth and Poole, writers are being asked to compose a piece in direct response to their readers. It feels like a time-travelling trick, meeting the reading group before you’ve written the work they’re going to read; an experiment in the reader-writer relationship. I can’t wait to see how it works. All I know so far is that the group I’ll be working with enjoy stories about animals.
I am wondering if this could include strange, submarine animals. Like the harlequin-quilted blowfish up there.
Mr. Blowfish is having a blast at Bristol Zoo’s mid-afternoon feeding time. He was spinning about the place, gleefully snorting out a bit of unchewed mollusc while I muscled up to the glass to take a picture.
My friend took me to the zoo. There was, as A. A. Milne promised, “a tiny potamus“; we saw a Pygmy Hippo having a bath. I met a Slow Loris and an Agile Gibbon. I saw a Deer Mouse and a Mouse Deer. I enjoyed these sorts of classification conflicts; none more so than the Mountain Chicken Frog. The taxonomists are really keeping their options open for this one.
I enjoyed less the knowledge that the Mountain Chicken Frog is not some fantastical cross-species amalgam, but a critically endangered frog hunted for its meat. Overhunting, volcanic ash and fungal disease have reduced the population’s size by 80% in the last ten years.
Similarly, the wrinkly wriggler that padded about the terrarium in the Reptile House was one of a handful of Utila Iguanas that have been born as part of a breeding programme. Since recovering from overhunting in the mid-1990s, the Utila Iguana population is now threatened from habitat loss: the mangrove forests that they should pad about in (as opposed to a glass terrarium in Bristol) are being ‘tidied away’ for hotel and resort developments, landfills and marinas. Ach.
It’s desperate that hotels can push a species to extinction. “Come and holiday on our pleasant and empty sands. It’s dead nice.”
So yes, I am also puffed up with sadness. My chest heaves. My excitement at writing an animal story for a library is mixed keenly with today’s trip to the zoo and the customer’s conflict arising from the visitor centre’s facts, figures and display cases of crocodile skin contraband. Like belcher Blowfish after his enormous seafood platter, I feel a little bloated.