‘Where Have All the Animals Gone?’ – a journey through Africa and Asia

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In “Where Have All the Animals Gone?”, author Dale Peterson recounts his adventures with Karl Ammann, an eccentric award-winning wildlife photographer and conservationist, as they travel across several countries in Africa and Asia investigating bushmeat hunting, wildlife trafficking and vanishing wildlife.

‘Where Have All the Animals Gone?’ – a journey through Africa and Asia
  • Peterson’s book is a witty, humorous, and sometimes gut-wrenching, look into how human presence and consumption is driving the disappearance of wildlife.
  • In the book, Peterson joins Karl Ammann, an eccentric award-winning wildlife photographer, on some of his investigations in parts of Africa and Asia.
  • In an interview with Mongabay, Peterson talks about how he turned several years of travels and adventures with Ammann into a gripping narrative of wildlife trafficking, bushmeat hunting, vanishing wildlife, and conservation.

In “Where Have All the Animals Gone?: My Travels with Karl Ammann,” author and natural historian Dale Peterson recounts his adventures with Karl Ammann, an eccentric award-winning wildlife photographer, as they travel across several countries in Africa and Asia. Peterson’s book is a witty, humorous, and sometimes gut-wrenching look into how human presence and consumption is driving the disappearance of wildlife.

Peterson has divided his book into three fast-paced parts. In the first part, he travels with Ammann to remote parts of Central Africa — often in helicopters or pickup trucks — meeting several interesting people on the way, including quirky scientists and egotistic local leaders.

"Where have all the animals gone": a book by Dale Peterson.
“Where have all the animals gone”: a book by Dale Peterson.

In the opening chapters, he visits bushmeat markets and restaurants, and describes hunters bringing in boatloads of fresh and smoked meat of bats, birds, crocodiles, monkeys, and antelopes. Peterson introduces the readers to Ammann’s multi-dimensional personality in the first part, painting him as a tenacious, cheeky individual who can slickly negotiate complex, even dangerous, situations.

Ammann does not seem to be afraid of stepping into unknown territories, or of being politically incorrect. He rescues a baby gorilla, for example, and buys a flight ticket for the tiny ape and buckles her into the seat next to him when the stewardess and an airport official create a fuss.

In the second and third parts, Peterson continues his adventures with Ammann, joining him on some of his investigations into the bushmeat and ivory trade, and search for vanishing wildlife in parts of Asia and Africa. Ammann is a colorful character, and Peterson’s infusion of humor into the book keeps it from being grim and dark.

“This book is about traveling through a vanishing world, saying good-bye to biodiversity, watching as the human presence mushrooms and pushes the planet’s wild animals and wild habitats away and over the edge,” Karl Ammann writes in the book’s afterword. “It’s not the end of the world. It is the end of the wild.”

“Every now and then I meet a kindred soul and we compare notes and agree on the status quo and the cause and effect,” he adds. “Even Dale for the most part lacked knowledge of what it all looked like ten or twenty years ago, making it challenging to compare past and present, and to imagine what it will look like in the future.”

In an interview with Mongabay, Peterson talks about how he turned several years of travels and adventures with Ammann into a gripping narrative of wildlife trafficking, bushmeat hunting, vanishing wildlife, and conservation.

In the book, Peterson and Ammann come across chimpanzees killed for meet, as well as chimpanzees orphaned as result of bushmeat hunting. Photo by Rhett Butler.
In the book, Peterson and Ammann come across chimpanzees killed for meet, as well as chimpanzees orphaned as result of bushmeat hunting. Photo by Rhett Butler.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DALE PETERSON

Mongabay: What inspired you to finally take up this project? Why did you decide to write about bushmeat hunting, and vanishing wildlife?

Peterson: I have been writing about vanishing wildlife for much of my life, so was a no-brainer. That has always been a reason to write. More specifically, though, I decided to write about the trafficking in ape meat–all aspects of the business, from hunting, to selling, to the consumption of it, not to mention the cultural, ethical, and conservation issues involved–because I was convinced that this was an urgent conservation issue. The part that made it most urgent for me, however, was that no conservation or wildlife media outlet in the United States would touch the subject. Or so it seemed. Karl was unable to sell his photographs and story anywhere in the US market. So I felt I had a moral obligation to write the original book, which came out under the title “Eating Apes” in 2003. My latest book, “Where Have All the Animals Gone?” is not, of course, directly about the ape meat commerce. It is about my travels and adventures with Karl during the making of that book on the ape meat commerce, along with our making of two other books that followed–beautiful coffee-table format books on elephants and giraffes, featuring his photos and my text.

Author Dale Peterson. Photo credit: Dale Peterson.
Author Dale Peterson. Photo credit: Dale Peterson.

Mongabay: You went to several places in Africa and Asia with Karl. If you had to pick one place that was the most difficult, physically and/or emotionally, which one would it be?

Peterson: Democratic Republic of the Congo. We went there not long after the Civil War was supposedly over. The time described in this book was my second experience traveling in Congo and then flying out from the big airport at Kisangani. The first time was worse because the airport was then intact, which meant lots of private spaces for men in uniform to shake travelers down for bribes (“culture tax,” “protection tax,” “computer tax,” “immigration tax,” that sort of thing). The second time, with Karl, was easier because the entire airport had been burned out–leaving a concrete shell with far fewer secret places for the guys in uniform to solicit bribes. Also, the airport was officially monitored by UN soldiers.

Mongabay: What was the most important lesson that you learned from Karl and other experts during your journey?

Peterson: Things are a lot worse than people think. Conservation is losing the battle, explosive human population growth is winning, and we are entering a bleak period of human history that promises, unless radical changes are carried out, serious losses in biodiversity and the heritage of wilderness and wild animal species.

Mongabay: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Peterson: For some reason, many reviewers have focused on the grim parts and the hard lessons in this book, but I think the book has much, much more, including portraits of interesting people and far-off places, a good deal of humor, excitement, and adventure travel–along with the Boswellian portrait of a difficult, eccentric, legendary photojournalist (i. e., Karl).

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