Deer, Rabbit, and Dolphin are three books in a series marketed as a “new kind of animal history” in that they all begin with an in-depth look at the natural history, zoology, and taxonomy of each animal. Each book also cleverly folds in the cultural implications of the animal’s relationship with humans through the arts, religion, history, animal husbandry, hunting, and popular culture. Thorough yet engaging, each book is written by a different author, all experts in their fields. The series includes over 60 titles, with more to come. As an educator, I see the books in this series as filling a niche for students seeking very specific information about the natural or cultural history of an individual animal. Outside of that audience, the books may only speak to individuals who have a passion for specific organisms. This series is unique in how it connects each organism through science and the arts.
“This book is designed to appeal to the scientifically literate as well as to those with a background in the arts” (p. 7). John Fletcher, veterinarian and deer farmer, clearly explains the complex taxonomy of deer in chapter 1. He goes on to cover the rich cultural relationship between deer and humans dating back to the popular deer farms of Europe in the 1500s, as well as the role of deer in the arts over time. Fletcher leaves no stone unturned. He is especially gifted at asking relevant questions, which leave the reader pondering his theories. For example, his detailed study of the mythological and practical implications of antler regeneration suggests that if we could understand the physiology of antler regeneration, we might someday apply that knowledge to making limb regeneration possible in other animals.
Even though this is a series, each book approaches the natural and cultural history of its animal slightly differently. Much emphasis in Dolphin is placed on the evolutionary history and social behavior of these cetacean mammals, widely known as among the more complex social organisms on earth. The dolphin’s roles in mythology and popular culture are also explored in depth. In modern times, the opening of dolphin parks and the presentations of dolphins in films, TV programs, and literature have all contributed to our current familiarity with them. Our knowledge of these creatures continues to be updated as curiosity about their intelligence, social structures, and methods of communication leads many researchers to study them in depth.
Chapter 2 of Rabbit exemplifies the first portion of the book: “The Natural and Unnatural History of The European Rabbit” explains how the ravages of rabbits as an introduced species in Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand have affected other native populations, as well as the human response to their explosive growth in a new environment. Later chapters cover the rabbit’s cultural implications throughout history – including their roles as cuddly creatures for darling children or responsibility shapers for older children through home “rabbitry” programs. Rabbits are incredibly heterogeneous in that they are farmed for meat and fur, bred for laboratory experiments, and shown and raised as pets. In folklore they are symbols of luck, evil, fecundity, a sign of the Chinese Zodiac, and even messengers between other worlds and known human existence.