New memoir by naturalist tells amusing anecdotes of wild life research with good keen men

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Naturalist and author Graham Reels

If you are a runner or hiker who has grown to love the Hong Kong countryside, here is a new book for you: Graham Reels’ “Confessions of a Hong Kong Naturalist”.

Published one month ago, the book describes his ten years surveying wildlife in the wetlands, forests and mountains of the New Territories and islands. In 1988, Graham took up a job as research assistant at the HKU Zoology Department. His professors sent him off to do biodiversity surveys with a series of amusing characters. They managed to cover most of Hong Kong’s countryside collecting specimens and mapping their habitats. The escapades of these raggitty characters read like scenes from Barry Crump’s “A Good Keen Man” or Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”.

Graham especially liked one Guillame de Rougemont, who loved sticking his bare hands in cow poo. Guillame was after rove beetles, who also love cow poo. He carried a pooter, which is a glass vial with an open tube coming out of one side and a long rubber hose out of the other. Guillame would suck on the rubber hose dragging rove beetles into the vial to the bemusement of onlookers.

More on Guillame:

At Tai Mo Shan checkpoint he said he wanted to find some cow dung. We soon found some and he dug his fingers into it, but stood up after a few seconds.

“Too dry.”

We cast around and shortly came upon a fresher mound.

“Ah.” Guillame pulled out his trusty pooter and rummaged around in the soft manure, breaking it up with his bare hands and hoovering up tiny beetles. After this we tracked down a few more poop piles and he repeated the procedure, occasionally flicking back his long fringe with bemucked fingers when it drooped down in front of his eyes. At length he drew himself straight, flicked back his hair one more time, and lit a cigarette. As far as I could work out when Guillame wasn’t rummaging for rove beetles he was puffing on a cigarette. By now I had decided he was one of my favourite people. I later learned from Finnish coleopterist Jyrki Muona that Guillame was one of the world’s leading authorities on rove beetles.

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Graham in 1998

Graham writes well. It is no surprise to read at the back of “Confessions” that he now works as a writer and editor. He does dialogue far better than many big name authors. The most entertaining conversations featuring a mix of Cantonese insults and English expletive can’t be repeated here because my rather prudish editor will strike it out. Aside from the laughs, the best takeaway from his book is renewed awareness of the wonderful diversity of fauna in the bush and right around our homes. There are many sections describing in some scientific detail the creatures to be found in Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay at Hoi Ha, Ho Chung, Kei Ling Ha, Ma On Shan, nearby islands and many other locales.

Wildlife researchers camping on Sai Kung’s Bluff Island

“Confessions of a Hong Kong Naturalist” is available from Kidnapped in Sai Kung and other book stores.

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1 Comment

  1. Graham,
    I have just named a new rove beetle collected by you at Luk Keng Stenus reelsi.
    Where can I get your book? (I now live in Oxford).
    All the best,
    Guillaume