ON THE SHELVES

REVIEWS BY PATRICIA McCRACKEN

Even if you have no immediate plans to visit the country, James Gifford’s Botswana Self Drive: Routes, Roads & Ratings (HPH, R850), is well worth the investment as a study guide before you set off. Gifford is an award-winning wildlife photographer who has come to know Botswana well and his advice is to the point. He reiterates safety issues such as carrying spare provisions of food, water and fuel and the importance of being realistic about how long your journey might take in the demanding conditions. To help you decide where to aim for, Gifford focuses on Moremi, Khwai, Chobe, Central Kalahari, Nxai and Makgadikgadi and covers each in some depth – often as much as 50 pages. And just when you might be marvelling how remote and daring you’ll be, he adds in a section of 10 “off the beaten track” destinations. A useful and inspiring travel guide.

In Place (Umuzi, R320), former Getaway editor Justin Fox recreates 10 South African literary journeys, going to the likes of Bosman’s Marico, Schreiner’s Karoo, Mda’s Wild Coast and perhaps the one that any plant enthusiast will leap into first, Dalene Mathee’s Knysna forest.

You walk by his side into each author’s world, gleaning information, insights and impressions from him. Enjoying both his historic and his contemporary commentary, you often notice a repartee developing between the two that can be sharp, humorous, tragicomic or purely sad. Most of all, this exploration is about the sense of place for Fox, something that many of us seek at this time of year – and, like him, with varying degrees of success at fulfilling our expectations.

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You might not think that gorilla conservation has much to do with plants but Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, the first-ever wildlife vet in Uganda, sees further than most of us. In her memoir, Walking with Gorillas (Arcade, R550), she explains how plants put gorillas and people on a collision course. People enter the forests where gorillas live to cut timber and gather plants for traditional medicine. Gorillas stray out of the forest into community land, often enjoying foraging on fruit and vegetables and particularly on banana plants. In the process, they can infect each other with diseases to which they have little resistance – scabies can kill a gorilla, for instance, while ebola often spells death to a human being. As a result, Kalema founded an acclaimed NGO, Conservation Through Public Health, underlining the vital need for a holistic conservation approach. The biggest test came with Covid – the structure wobbled slightly at first but held firm. A fascinating read.

Urban Jungle: Wilding the City (Jonathan Cape, R570), Ben Wilson looks at the apparently unpromising hard cityscapes in which so many of us live – and finds unexpected signs of life among dereliction. Disturbance offers species a chance for a fresh start, he suggests, taking extreme examples such as World War II carpet bombing which liberated seeds of sometimes rare and unexpected plants to grow and find themselves a niche. “Wild meadows” have become quite popular occasional features since Covid, allowing municipalities to curb the grass-cutting bills and to be seen to encourage grass and wild flower species to host insects. But there is still a long uphill battle on this as there is on ensuring that tree-planting is accepted and welcomed. Read what Wilson has to say about the past of garden cities and the future of urban jungles to have your arguments ready.

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