Wednesday, December 6, 2023
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THE TRUTH ABOUT ANIMALS: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife

More than once while reading THE TRUTH ABOUT ANIMALS: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife, I hung my jaw open, laughed out loud, or insisted my family drop what they were doing to hear me read some astonishing fact.

Courtesy: Lucy Cooke

This new book about little known facts about the animal kingdom is both fascinating and funny, told by zoologist Lucy Cooke in such a mesmerizing and humorous way that I didn’t want to stop reading. 

Released in April, THE TRUTH ABOUT ANIMALS: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife, (Basic Books, hardcover), Cooke introduces us to 13 of the most-misunderstood species on Earth, and demonstrates why they are deserving of our deepest respect after all.

The whole tome is marvelous, but here are some very interesting nuggets to pique your interest:

-The quest to figure out where the freshwater eel comes from, and where its genitals are, is a yet-unsolved mystery dating dating back to Aristotle.

-Twelfth-century observers thought beavers gnawed their own balls off in order to deter hunters from chasing them.

-Doctors in the ancient world used to have patients sniff poop (of all kinds, including human) to get well.

-Sloths poop once a week and it’s a way of attracting mates.

-Hyena females have pseudo-penises.

-US scientists ran top secret tests in 1943, hoping to use bats to drop bombs on enemies. The bats proved untrainable, accidentally dropped the bombs on our own warehouses, which the government let burn to the ground rather than call in civilian firefighters and reveal the nature of the testing.

-An ambitious Italian scientist once made condoms for frogs so he could study the semen. Must read about his sewing misadventures.

-The African clawed frog was the world’s first reliable pregnancy test for women.

In her travels to better understand the animals inhabiting our planet, Cooke has licked poison dart frogs, learned to speak “hippo,” and flown with vultures. She is a long-time champion of species that others find hard to love—perhaps they’re too slimy, too smelly, too ugly, or just plain weird. 

Cooke’s writing is vibrant, bringing to life scientists, scholars, and diverse species of animals through singular stories, fascinating facts, and some of her own adventures. She delves deep into the history of humanity’s struggle to comprehend the animal kingdom, both because of its bizarre complexity and our compulsion to view it through the narrow prism of our own existence.

In her research for the book, Cooke dug into ancient texts to uncover the bizarre theories we used to hold about animals and their behaviors, and the extraordinary journeys some have made to discover the truth.

It’s a gem of a book that’s worth reading. If we can see the animals for what they are, Cooke argues, and not what we want them to be, perhaps we can make a difference in mankind’s efforts to slow mass extinction.

More on Lucy Cooke at

Side note: The cover, with a panda, is so cute, it attracted much attention when I carried it around at my daughter’s elementary school. However, it’s probably more along the lines of PG-13 reading.

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