Bushmasters & Pink Gin | Origins of Herpetoculture
A Book Review
What does one of the worlds deadliest and largest viper species have to do with Pink Gin? Thankfully, not as much as you might think. However, both play a role in Bushmaster Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the Worlds Largest Viper which I was given an opportunity to read immediately following its release. For those who enjoy not only reptiles, but nature in general Raymond Ditmars in my estimation should be one of the foremost sought out names when it comes to nature or being a naturalist as it were. To bring this even closer to home albeit now a somewhat distant memory for some of us now.
Marlin Perkins is most likely a name those with four decades of life would remember. For the younger crowd the name Steve Irwin should be enough to spark some recognition of where I am going with this. If it wasn’t for Raymond Ditmars and his sometimes odd escapades into Central Park we probably would’ve never seen the likes of any of those I mentioned. Ditmars was and still is today a man who had captivated me with his written work. Until I’d met Tom Crutchfield and a few others whom I now consider colleagues in my earlier years of herpetoculture I’d never known the name Raymond Ditmars and by that time Ditmars had already passed on to the happy herping ground and any chance at meeting much less seeing more of his work was lost among memories. As was the case for such notable persons like Romulus Whitaker.
Then comes Dan Eatherley a British author and film maker with a mission to discover just what driving force was behind Ditmars and what really happened on those ‘failed expeditions’ in search of the worlds largest viper. While I’ve met a few people who had met Ditmars and they described him as a gentleman and a scholar to use and old euphemism no one could have described the man as Eatherley has done within Bushmaster. Dan Eatherley at first explains why he chose to write the book in the first place and then without the reader realizing it they’re woven seamlessly into the life and times of a boy who would very quickly become one of the worlds most respected herpetologists and pioneer of nature documentary film making. Dan walks in the footsteps of Ditmars through interviews which don’t read like interviews but as if you’re there beside Ditmars as he sips a pink gin.
Maybe we are stage left as a Kangaroo Rat makes an impromptu leap of faith during a presentation. You can smell the tension in the air, the hairs on your nape raise in anticipation, a large venomous snake sets out to seemingly end a life, in retaliation at being filmed for educational purposes. All of this and more awaits within a book which provides the truest adventure of being a ‘snakeman’ I’ve had the privilege of reading in the last year or more.
We are privy now not only to Dr. Ditmars accomplishments but we’re given first hand accounts of Ditmars admitting his faults within the captive world of wild animals. In today’s world this is something which we defend all to vociferously via the media.
Ditmars admits learning from his charges that which in my opinion, cannot ever be taught in a classroom setting.
He learned or so it seems, what it meant to be a captive reptile and from those very experiences coordinated his own innovative care efforts. Never once did Ditmars dismiss what is now coming to the forefront of herpetology. Reptiles are in fact capable of much more than simple reactions to stimuli. They are capable of learning and quite possibly experiencing emotions. It may not be how we as human primates experience emotion but in his experiences which are shared in great detail in Mr. Eatherley’s book, Ditmars saw firsthand what science is only now beginning to accept.
I invite anyone interested in reptiles or any other animal to board the B or C line of the subway and journey with Ditmars and many other notable characters throughout a world of herpetology and herpetoculture which might be lost forever were it not for Dan Eatherley and Bushmaster Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the World’s Largest Viper.
P.S. Here’s a great recipe for ‘Pink Gin‘ for the evening when you take the adventure of Bushmaster: Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the World’s Largest Viper into your hands.