The Zoo Book, part 3

With six chapters done so far, there are ten more to go! The first few I found quite depressing reading at times, the next few weren’t quite so bad. I wonder what the next lot will be like.


The first thing I notice is the use of the ligature for AE, something that’s fallen out of use for the most part these days.

Several ‘types of dog’ are covered –

  • Wolves – really only a very large and very savage dog. Not sure how factually correct that one is! Blyton adds some ‘folk tale’ type stories about wild wolves.
  • Jackalshalf wolf and half foxes (again, is that biologically true?)
  • Foxes – They are such a nuisance to farmers that, if it were not for the fact that fox-hunting is carried on in England, there would soon be very few foxes left!  Is it just me or does that not make any sense?
  • The Dingo

And finally the hyæna. Hyænas are really unpopular creatures and Blyton jumps straight on the bandwagon.

She describes them straight away as ugly, unpleasant-looking animals. Then carries on with:

Their sloping hindquarters give them a very cowardly appearance. Their manners are disgusting, and no one could really like a hyæna. It is a very cowardly animal, and even if attacked it sometimes will not show fight. It is said that Arab hunters… will not even use a weapon against it, but simply throw a handful of wet mud into its face. Then they drag it along by its hind feet and give it to their women to kill!

It reminded me of a quote from the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer –

Buffy: Wow. Apparently, Noah rejected the hyenas from the Ark because he thought they were an evil impure mixture of dogs and cats.

Willow: Hyenas aren’t well liked.

Buffy: They do seem to be the schmoes of the animal kingdom.

I couldn’t find any biblical evidence that the hyaenas were banned from the ark (but it’s hard to be sure as having looked at a handful of different versions I notice some referenced hyaenas at other points while others just said beasts.)

What I did learn though that in his 1614 History of the World Sir Walter Raleigh wrote that Noah kept hyaenas from the ark as they were hybrid animals like mules. He thought that God would only have saved pure-bred animals. The fact that hyaenas still exist today (in his opinion) is due to them being reconstituted though unnatural unions between dogs and cats. In actual fact they are most closely related to weasels.

The much maligned hyaena


And we continue with the vaguer chapter titles as Blyton tries to categorise a bunch of animals.

Here we have :

  • Bison (a favourite joke from my family is what’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison? You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo…) She says there are only a few hundred left in America, in reserves and parks. Thankfully today they have largely recovered thanks to conservation efforts. Blyton doesn’t think much of bison it seems – Bison are stupid animals…who behave like lemmings and follow a stampede even if that goes over a cliff etc. She says that The Indians used this flaw to kill many of them (though she at least says that the whites also killed a lot of bison).
  • Buffalo (not to be confused with the American bison which are often called buffalo… though Blyton doesn’t make this point) of which the African type are more powerful and dangerous while the Indian sort are easy to tame to pull plows.
  • Yak of Tibet.
  • Ibex and chamois – chamois leather comes from the chamois goat.
  • Eland – in danger of becoming extinct in Blyton’s time but now classed as least concern.
  • Springbok.
  • Gnuthey look ungraceful and awkward. 
  • Deer – she explains the difference between antlers and horns, and talks a bit about reindeer.
  • Elk aka the moose. Here there’s a story of two boys who inadvertently relieved a wapati (Indian deer) of his antlers as he was rubbing them against the fence to shed them.
  • British deer – covers the 3 types, red, fallow and roebuck. But all are English references about finding them in parks like Richmond etc. What about the wilds of Scotland?


An even vaguer category now!

  • The elephantmost children who go to the zoo have ridden on an elephant’s back. How times have changed! Edinburgh Zoo used to keep elephants and I may have seen one as a very small child but from what I can see the zoo stopped having elephants in the late 80s due to lack of space for them. London Zoo send its last elephants to Whipsnade in 2001 after a keeper was crushed to death. (And I’m pretty sure they stopped giving rides many years before that!) Blyton describes the difference between African and Indian elephants, and touches on the ivory trade in a very mild and non-judgemental way. She adds that only kind people can train elephants as they remember any any acts of cruelty or injustice.

Elephants on one of the 12 colour plates

  • Rhinoceros, again she covered the difference between African and Indian breeds. An interesting fact is about flies getting into skin folds and them bathing in mud to keep them out.
  • Hippopotamus – plenty of good facts here.
  • Wild boar – found in the forests of England long ago. They were extinct in Britain and were at the time of Blyton’s writing – but now there are some wild groups having escaped from farms (and some purposely reintroduced in Scotland recently).
  • Kangaroos – Can only be run to earth by very swift and powerful dogs, why is this an important fact? She does at least describe their physique and talk about how they keep joeys in their pouches. Blyton mistakenly states that smaller kangaroos are called wallabies. They are from the same family but they are different animals!

Since these chapters are mostly factual about wild animals it makes for easier reading – aside from a few comments about hunting.

What’s interesting, perhaps, is how several animals were extinct or nearly extinct in Blyton’s time but have bounced back in the intervening years so much that these animals aren’t under any threat now. I had expected it to go far more in the other direction. Saying that, Blyton was perhaps writing at a time where elephants and tigers etc were utterly abundant in the wild, she just didn’t make a point of saying so.

One niggle I have is that on at least three occasions she talks about animals in England and entirely seems to forget that those animals exist in Wales and Scotland (and quite possibly Northern Ireland too!). The deer are one example as I pointed out above, but also the wild boar and foxes.

Next post: The Zoo Book part 4

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2 Responses to The Zoo Book, part 3

  1. jillslawit says:

    The poor hyaenas seem to have had a rough deal.


  2. Padré says:

    I think what Enid meant about foxes was that if they were not hunted, farmers would take matters into their own hands. They would shoot and trap them and this would dispose of more foxes than hunting did.


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