Books  General Natural History  Biography, Exploration & Travel 

The African Naturalist: The Life and Times of Rodney Carrington Wood 1889-1962

Biography / Memoir

By: David Happold

290 pages, Col & b/w plates

Book Guild

Hardback | Apr 2011 | #190546 | ISBN-13: 9781846245558
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £17.99 $22/€20 approx

About this book

Rodney Wood was a remarkable man - a great naturalist who spent 50 years mainly in Nyasaland (now Malawi) studying and collecting mammals, birds, fish, insects, shells and plants. After a good education, he turned his back on the formalities of life in England and became a cotton farmer in Africa. He never settled - always looking for new challenges and experiences. At various times, he owned a tea estate, was the first Game Warden of Nyasaland, a school teacher, and finally a beach-comber in the Seychelles. He was also a tracker and hunter who preferred to hunt with a bow and arrow rather than with a gun. Throughout his career, collecting in the most meticulous and scientific fashion was his all-absorbing passion. His valuable collections are now in prestigious museums and several species have been named after him, and yet his name is almost unknown except to the most ardent lovers of African natural history.

Wood was a determined conservationist and was responsible for many conservation initiatives in Nyasaland, including establishing the first National Parks in the country. Wood had the ability to get on with people from all walks of life; from local fishermen, game scouts and farmers to colonial governors and knights of the realm.

This delightful and absorbing account of Wood's life by a fellow African naturalist is based on Wood's diaries, notebooks and collections, and on the accounts of many people who knew him personally and savoured by anyone interested in natural history and Africa.

Customer Reviews:

Fascinating and Authorative
by Busybird in the United Kingdom (24/02/2013)

This is a fascinating account of an engaging and influential character, his habitats and times. Rodney Wood was a unique personality who devoted his life to various undertakings in Africa which enabled him to collect and classify thousands of species of butterflies, bats, birds, fish and other animals, many new to science and which now bear his name. It is an amazingly thorough and authoritative biography, meticulously researched from multiple sources and locations over many years, professionally and affectionately presented. As a somewhat reluctant reader, I was engrossed by this book. The text is very accessible to the general reader and yet so thoroughly referenced and indexed for those specialists who wish to enquire further into any aspect of Wood’s diverse life which impinges on their own interest. These aspects range from the genesis of his passion for natural history (encouraged by a teacher at his school, Harrow), through his consolidation of the Boy Scout movement in Canada, to his enthusiasm for various forms of transport and the evolution of his views on conservation, as well as the details of collecting and taxonomy. This delightful book will appeal not only to those of the older generation with a nostalgia for their own erstwhile ex-patriate experience in Africa, but also to younger readers for whom this history will illustrate the legacy of benign colonialism in East Africa .


African Naturalist
by Paula J in the United Kingdom (09/11/2012)

Rodney Wood, an Englishman who spent the majority of his adult life in Nyasaland before the country attained independence and was re-christened Malawi, combined the contradictory elements of game hunter turned conservationist; commercial planter and keen gardener; collector of natural history specimens, yet equally delighted observer and admirer of living animals. A fascinating and enjoyable biography by David Happold, inspired 30 years after Wood's death by anecdotes of his lifestyle and knowledge of the achievements of this exceptional individual. Although there were many substantial changes in Nyasaland during Wood's lifetime and in subsequent years, the author's knowledge of the country has been important in capturing the essence of the hardships and excitements of life in the early part of the 20th Century. This biography has been greatly enhanced by extending it to include the early history of those explorers and natura lists in Nyasaland, such as David Livingstone, John Kirk, Harry Johnston and Alexander Whyte.

Very soon after arriving in Africa, Wood's interest in natural history developed into a passion for collecting specimens, many of which were sent to international museums in Britain and America and also in Africa. His collections of good, well documented specimens made an important contribution to the knowledge of the biology of Malawi and other African countries. Collecting specimens was never an easy task in Africa, particularly in the earlier part of the century, and the author provides a fine account of the difficulties and problems encountered by Wood on the occasions that he teamed up with Hubert Lynes to collect specimens in southern Africa in the 1930s. In this biography, Wood is revealed as thoughtful and innovative, yet with little tolerance for bigotry. He was one of the first people to provide information on the possibilities of biological control, introducing the practice of planting mulberry trees in addition to the commercial fruit crop, thus provid ing a preferred food source for bulbuls which also consume insect pests. He held enlightened views about tsetse fly and mosquito control, conservation and methods to reduce soil erosion during the rainy season.

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David Happold was born in Salisbury, England and was educated at Bishop Wordsworth School, Salisbury, Peterhouse, Cambridge and the University of Alberta, Canada. He lived in Africa for seventeen years, where he taught biology and conducted research at the University of Khartoum, Sudan, the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and the University of Malawi. He is an author of four books and about 200 scientific publications on African mammals and other wildlife. An Emeritus Fellow at the Australian National University, he currently resides in Canberra.

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