590: The Search for the Last Undiscovered Animals by Karl P. N. Shuker
590: Shuker, Karl P. N. The Search for the Last Undiscovered Animals: The Beasts That Hide From Man. New York: Fall River Press, 2007. 294 pp. ISBN 978-1-4351-0131-9.
- 500: Science
- 590: Zoological sciences
Karl P. N. Shuker is a scientist, but also a little bit of a nut. Whereas mainstream science is concerned with exploring and finding new animals in a blind, happenstance manner, Shuker starts with the position that folklore and cultural tales about “monsters” are based in fact and these creatures can be found in the wild. In The Search for the Last Undiscovered Animals, he recounts his travels around the world, looking for the animals that have pervaded ancient texts and modern fears.
Shuker, luckily, stops himself from going too far off the deep end by trying to explain away a lot of the features of these animals as simple adaptations of known specimens, postulating that the Mongolian Death Worm is really a poisonous snake or that Sea Serpents are really just undiscovered giant eels. The tricky thing with this book is just where the line between scientific inquiry stops and bogus monster tracking begins. But I suppose that’s the charm of Shuker’s search. He legitimately believes that we can’t just summarily write off the legends of certain civilizations because they don’t fit in the modern world. He understands that his searches may bother or even alienate other scientists, but the few that do join him make the hunts worth it. Whether he’s after the hairy lizard of New Guinea or the man-eating tree of Madagascar, the science and the source material make for an interesting combination. The book is entertaining and a great many will learn a lot about zoology and animal behavior, but ultimately it lends credence to the idea that dragons and monsters could be real, which diminishes any real power it could have.