Appointment at the Ends of the World: Memoirs of a Wildlife Veterinarian

by William B. Karesh

Published by Warner Books

376 pages, 1999


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Shades of Herriot

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley

 

"When Buddy, Mo, Phillip, and I returned to the park, we met with more of our team in Baro before hiking in to the research station. They informed us that our major obstacle in our search was that villagers were transforming themselves into elephants and warning away the wild elephants. The villagers were concerned that we might drug one of them while they were in an elephant state and they would die." Stories such as this can be found in William Karesh's fascinating look at wildlife veterinary medicine in Appointment at the Ends of the World.

Karesh, the head of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Field Veterinary Program, works with wildlife biologists to combat wildlife health problems around the world. From saving the life of a wounded okapi (don't know what one is? Read the book) in Zaire to collecting DNA samples of endangered orangutans in Borneo to helping jaguars in the jungles of Bolivia to finding thousands of safari ants streaming into his tent, Karesh delights the reader with stories of far off places that hit close to home. As ABC News reported, "If you want to understand why wildlife matters, and how [Karesh] is trying to preserve it for the rest of us, read this book." I concur.

Karesh engages an autobiographical viewpoint to take us on incredible journeys into the most exotic places on the planet. We travel to Zaire, Bolivia, Cameroon, and Peru. With him, we immobilize buffalo in Garamba National Park and sip afofo with Baro village elders. We are awakened in the mornings by red howler monkeys. We are transported to these unusual places by a man dedicated to preserving the balance of our fragile ecosystems.

As the sun set, I climbed into the branches of a tree, made a little seat by wrapping a hammock between two branches, and set up the darting equipment. right below me a blue-crowned motmot was trying to catch a frog in the little water-filled tapir tracks in the mud. Motmots are magnificent birds with striking turquoise plumage. They nest in long tunnels that they dig underground in streambanks. I whistled to him, and he flew up to a branch at eye level.

He writes simply, but with great enthusiasm for his subject matter. His love of animals and the outdoors, nature and the environment are obvious, and his passion and enthusiasm helps us to care about those things also. He's a manly James Herriot whose writings are both enthusiastic travelogue and charming essay. He is a spokesperson for wildlife conservation and the mission underlying all of his adventures is clear: make a difference for the animals.

Appointment at the Ends of the World is a generous, intelligent and satisfying book. The reader will learn more about the world and about themselves. Make an appointment to read it this summer. | June 1999

 

Jonathan Shipley is a graduate of Washington State University and the editor of the literary magazine Odin's Eye.