It's a strange thing to be finally going. Off to French Guiana, and its gorgeous wasps lurking on the forgotten frontiers of the French Amazon. I'm laden down, like some kind of Victorian naturalist, with vast piles of peculiar goods. Two-thousand-five-hundred sterile vials, seventy wasp-detecting radio-antennae, two-thousand radio-tags, two beekeepers' hats, twenty-four jump-lead crocodile clips, thirty-five metres of electrical wire, one letter of recommendation (French), a French phrasebook, a small flask of RNA preservative, a dissection kit, the names and addresses of my contacts in Guiana, and a sense of wild immediacy. Back to the tropics, with the dust and the sunsets, the crazed pageant of evolution, the sloths, the toucans, the caiman, the anteaters, the ants, the vast tropical trees stretching far above to the elusive canopy. It's a scary thing, putting a field trip on the ground under your own stream - at least, that's what I feel! But here goes! And so to the tropics!
When I first read Life on Air, the passage that made the most impression on me was Attenborough's first vision of the tropics as he landed at a small airport in Sierra Leone in the 1950s. It's magical being a tropical biologist. It's like stepping into this bonanza world where evolution has gone haywire.
See you in Guiana. P.
Every time I'm lured back to Oxford I seem to end up having a quick poke around the Pitt Rivers - the museum at the end of the universe. Shrivelled heads and totem poles, etc. This time, on a whirlwind visit before rushing to the station, I thought I'd try and track down a few objects from the Guianas considering I'm off to Cayenne on Thursday...
For your delectation, then, I present an arrow from the Maroni River (apparently collected by the Oxford ethnologist Audrey Butt Colson in the 60s, with a cryptic note attached about its past career as a murder weapon) and a quiver from (British) Guyana acquired in 1897. There's also a set of poison darts from the opening of the Pitt Rivers in 1884 hiding innocently in a dark corner of the upper gallery (also Guyana).
I'm sure the rest of the Guianas collections is pretty huge (the Pitt Rivers has so many objects the storage is supposedly larger than the museum...), but then, alas, I had to run for the train ;)
I love this picture. It's Charles Lagus, David Attenborough's friend and colleague, filming in 1955 for 'Zoo Quest to Guiana', one of the first forays the BBC made into natural history broadcasting. I've devoured 'Life on Air' several times... ;) But I haven't yet been able to watch 'Zoo Quest to Guiana'! The various other 'Zoo Quests to...' have all be put online by the BBC, but Guiana remains mysteriously absent. One day I'll get my hands on it. And yes I know that's (British) Guyana, not French Guiana, but it's such a great picture of the tropics that it makes me want to drop everything and be deep in the forest....
Blog belonging to Patrick, studying the weird and wonderful mysteries of neotropical wasps in French Guiana and Panama
Adventures of a
of a young ZOOLOGIST