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Richard Conniff

Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time

If you're interested in natural history and the lives of animal then you'll find plenty of books about the 'poster species', but Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals is somewhat different. In it Richard Conniff tells of his involvement with some of the less well covered wildlife around our planet.

Indeed Conniff feels he has to apologise in the chapter on cheetahs; they're much too iconic. He seems more at home with wild dogs - he lets one sniff the back of his neck, despite their reputation for visciousness. The book consists of 23 short chapters on all manner of animals - quite a lot of insects, a few primates, but also jellyfish, hummingbirds and the (mythical?) migoi of Bhutan. There's a chapter on tracking leopards with !Kung San bushmen, who can reconstruct the details of leopard behaviour from just a few footprints. And then there are the piranhas: yes Conniff really did swim with them, and found that their reputation as killers is hugely exaggerated (just as well really).

The book is amusing, but it also carries a serious message - conservation isn't just about big campaigns or a few well known species, there's a lot of important work that is done that you don't often get to hear about. It's an easy to read book, but has plenty of interesting material on the lives of animals and those who study them, and I would say it deserves a wide readership.