Monday, 28 January 2013

"Precocious Tusk Growth" and a provisional front cover

This is the - very provisional - front cover image for Pygmy Elephants. The CFZ's preferred house-style plural is "dwarfs" with an "s", so I will be going through the book changing all the examples of "dwarves" with a "v" - there aren't that many, fortunately.

In devising a subtitle for the book, my publisher Jon Downes of the CFZ and myself were both surprised to discover there is no synonym for "elephant" according to Jon's thesaurus. Jon suggested "world's smallest pachyderms", but I thought pachyderms might include rhinos or manatees or hyraxes or something. Jon sought "pachyderm" on a search engine (other search engines are available!) and found that it was an outmoded order that includes everything from elephants to pigs, so pygmy elephants would not be the world's smallest pachyderm by a long way!

The cover is awaiting approval from the photographer upon whose photo my sketch of the pygmy elephant is loosely based, there are - I believe - "moral rights" issues here, so we'll have to wait and see for a couple of weeks whether he feels it's good to go. I wouldn't want to do anything "disparaging to his honour or reputation" in the words of UK copyright law.

Meanwhile, I've got a translation from the German-language Zeitschrift der Kolner Zoo report on a 1980s sighting of - allegedly - herds of pygmy elephants in clearings near the River Yobe, Central African Republic. The witness said they came into the clearings to lick salt and other minerals on the ground. Thanks to my colleague Mike Holderness for the translation. He noted that the report was badly written in its original language.

I also tracked down some articles from Mammalia in French from the 1960s, in which naturalist Pierre Pfeffer expresses the opinion that there's no such thing as pygmy elephants, having looked at the evidence up to then.

Several screw-ups by the normally excellent British Library meant that I had to make three trips to this noble institution to see an article of one bloody page by C A Spinage, now Dr Clive Spinage, in Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London from 1958. After all that hassle, it was an article of one bloody page, but with a photo I didn't know about. This showed a clearly infant elephant in a group with other young elephants, and this elephant had much more developed tusks than its older peers.

I tracked down the photographer, Dr Clive Spinage, who is very much alive over half a century later and who gave me permission to reproduce the photo in the book. He also said in Uganda in the 1950, where he worked in wildlife conservation, there was "a number of herds of intermediate forest/bush elephant types" around.

Spinage's article on "Precocious Tusk Growth" is positively the last item I need to look up. There was said (by Bernard Heuvelmans) to be pygmy elephants "staying" in Antwerp Zoo, whose archives were transferred to the City of Antwerp's Felix Archives in 2009, but I've had a look at the archive catalogue and it's not organised in any way that's useable, and I don't fancy a Eurostar ride and a long weekend in Antwerp just on the off-chance that something turns up. I'll have to let it go.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Elefante enano in "Spanish Guinea"

The Spanish colony of Rio Muni in West Africa only came Spain's way as compensation for a territorial swap with the Portuguese in Latin America in 1810, and the Spanish were never that enthusiastic about the little territory, squashed up on the coast between French Gabon to the south and German (later French and British) Cameroon to the North. Serious efforts by the Spanish to develop the colony only started in the 1930s.

It only formally became "Spanish Guinea" in 1958, in a merger with the much less neglected coffee and cocoa-growing island colony of Ferdinando Poo just off the coast. Unimpressive though Spain's little African empire was, it was just big enough to contain - allegedly - a pygmy elephant.

The elefante enano (pygmy elephant) of what's now Equatorial Guinea was shot by a Spanish army captain in the 1950s, at a time when the colony was being formally prepared for independence. It was in the commune of Nsok, right on the border with Gabon.

It was written up in La Vida Animal in La Guinea Espanol, published in 1962 (front cover shown here), in a report of nearly two whole pages (longer than most reports of pygmy elephant shootings or sightings). I'm in the process of getting it translated and trying to track down and write to its publishers, the now probably defunct Instituto del Estudios Africanos in Madrid, with a view to reproducing Mr. H. Garcia's photo of Captain Chacorro posing next to the weird-looking smooth-skinned six-footer elephant he's just brought down.