My first book Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon was published by Macmillan in April 2006, longlisted for the 2006 Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for the Royal Society’s prestigious General Book Prize. The paperback was published in May 2007.
Lonesome George was the sole-surviving member of his species of Galapagos giant tortoise. When he died in 2012, he had spent almost 40 years in captivity at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the central island of Santa Cruz on the off chance that scientists could find a way to get him to reproduce. He came to embody the mystery, complexity and fragility of the unique Galapagos archipelago and his story echoes the challenges of conservation worldwide.
The Way of the Panda: The Curious History of China’s Political Animal was published by Profile Books in 2010.
Giant pandas have been causing a stir ever since their formal scientific discovery just over 140 years ago. Yet in spite of humankind’s evident obsession with the giant panda, it is only in the last few decades that scientific research has begun to show us what this mysterious, frequently misunderstood creature is really like.
I use the rich and curious history of the giant panda to do several things: to ponder our changing attitudes toward the natural world; to offer a compelling history of the conservation movement; and to chart the rise of modern China on its journey to become the self-sufficient, twenty-first-century superpower it is today.
The Galapagos were once known to the sailors and pirates who encountered them as Las Encantadas: the enchanted islands, home to marvellous creatures and dramatic volcanic scenery. The Galapagos charts their evolution from deserted wilderness to profoundly important scientific resource and now global tourist destination.
The islands are famous throughout the world – recognition that brings with it 170,000 tourists a year and widespread development, as well as bitter clashes between environmentalists and local inhabitants. More than ever, we must be alert to the significance of this unique location – because what happens here foreshadows the fate of threatened ecosystems everywhere on earth.