The best books on enjoying wildlife when travelling

Who am I?

I put my hand where I couldn’t see it and was repaid for my foolishness by a scorpion sting. I was the doctor on an expedition to Madagascar and my friends thought their doctor was going to die. I was already fascinated with the ways animals interact with humans and this incident brought such reactions into sharp focus. Working as a physician in England, Nepal, and elsewhere, I’ve collected stories about ‘creepy crawlies’, parasites, and chance meetings between people and wildlife. Weird, wonderful creatures and wild places have always been my sources of solace and distraction from the challenging life of a working doctor and watching animals has taught me how to reassure and work with scared paediatric patients.

I wrote...

Book cover of A Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas

What is my book about?

The book that has my heart and soul in it is A Glimpse of Eternal Snows. It describes a couple of years when we – as a family – moved to an island in Nepal with no road access and no electricity in the middle of the largest tributary of the River Ganges where visitors might include hornbills, rhino, elephant, or even a tiger.

While my husband led a team of engineers intend on preventing floods during the monsoon, I tried to set up a programme of health promotion aiming to reduce deaths due to rabies while as well caring for our two young children. Our second son was born with life-limiting health problems; we’d fled from high-tech medical care in the UK so that he wouldn’t be put through unnecessary and painful operations and medical treatments. Our Nepali friends and neighbours taught us to live for the present and accept what life had flung at us, and our troubled child thrived and was a joyful presence in our remote little village.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Shark and the Albatross: A Wildlife Filmmaker Reveals Why Nature Matters to Us All

Why did I love this book?

In some travel writing, animals may be mentioned only in passing and are poorly observed, not so in this superbly written, sumptuous book. It is rich with icy imagery or steamy tropical atmosphere but there is humour, and how impressive that this successful wildlife cameraman and talented writer is so self-effacing. He seriously underplays the risks he faces, like his instructions if bitten by a seal on Bird Island: ‘Clean out the wound as much as you can with a scrubbing brush… and hope it is nowhere important… if it is really bad we’d have to radio for a ship to come and get you, but that could take weeks.’

Brilliant from beginning to end. I was totally immersed.

By John Aitchison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Shark and the Albatross as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For twenty years John Aitchison has been traveling the world to film wildlife for a variety of international TV shows, taking him to far-away places on every continent. The Shark and the Albatross is the story of these journeys of discovery, of his encounters with animals and occasional enterprising individuals in remote and sometimes dangerous places. His destinations include the far north and the far south, from Svalbard, Alaska, the remote Atlantic island of South Georgia, and the Antarctic, to the wild places of India, China, and the United States. In all he finds and describes key moments in the…

The Running Hare

By John Lewis-Stempel,

Book cover of The Running Hare

Why did I love this book?

This is another absolute gem of a book: about the English countryside and its wildlife. It is atmospheric, evocative, authoritative, informative, fascinating, closely observed, and well-researched. It is sobering too though about how intensive agriculture is destroying our natural heritage, and it is food for thought for those of us who enjoy travelling to enjoy wildlife tourism when the key species in our own back yards are struggling so.

Lewis-Stempel is a lyrical writer: ‘Up on those dark but heavenly hills skylarks sang, otters swam in the brook, and polecats eyed up the chickens. Where our friend lived was beautiful, but as life-full as a cemetery. Someone had removed all the birds.’

By John Lewis-Stempel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Running Hare as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?




Traditional ploughland is disappearing. Seven cornfield flowers have become extinct in the last twenty years. Once abundant, the corn bunting and the lapwing are on the Red List. The corncrake is all but extinct in England. And the hare is running for its life.

Written in exquisite prose, The Running Hare tells the story of the wild animals and plants that live in and under our ploughland, from the labouring microbes to the patrolling kestrel above the corn, from the…

Where the World Ends

By Geraldine McCaughrean,

Book cover of Where the World Ends

Why did I love this book?

This wonderful piece of writing isn’t obviously a travel narrative or a book about natural history as it is marketed as a children’s fiction but it is based on a real event and the sense of place the author achieves is astonishing. A group of men and boys from St Kilda are put ashore on a rocky stac in the North Atlantic. Their mission is to harvest birds and collect fulmar eggs and oil which will sustain their little rural community through the harsh Scottish winter. No one comes to bring them home though and the unfortunates spend months huddled against the storms.

The narrative vividly captures the risks such adventurers took dangling from homemade ropes over cliffs above unforgiving seas with shearwaters and other seabirds screaming at them. It is a masterful portrait of the harsh life on the Scottish islands.

By Geraldine McCaughrean,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Where the World Ends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the CILIP Carnegie Medal.

Every summer Quill and his friends are put ashore on a remote sea stac to hunt birds. But this summer, no one arrives to take them home.

Surely nothing but the end of the world can explain why they've been abandoned - cold, starving and clinging to life, in the grip of a murderous ocean. How will they survive?

'Brilliant, unpredictable as the sea itself' Philip Reeve, author of The Mortal Engines

'This is the best book I've read this year. Extraordinary' Kiran Millwood Hargrave, author of The Girl of Ink and Stars

Book cover of Orison for a Curlew: In Search for a Bird on the Edge of Extinction

Why did I love this book?

Clare is another consummate wordsmith – he even managed to write an engaging book about spending months on container ships – but with Orison he manages to weave a fascinating story using beautiful prose and superb writing to bring intelligent discussions and good research to life while introducing us to key conservation personalities he meets during his journeys.
Clare sets out to search for the highly endangered and secretive slender-billed curlew in a range of wetlands in a troubled Eastern Europe and discovers inspiring if sometimes eccentric movers and shakers devoted to saving our wild places.
And how about this for a profound final sentence in a book: ‘Too much certainty is a miserable thing, while the unknowable has a pristine beauty and a wonder with no end.’

By Horatio Clare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Orison for a Curlew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Slender-billed Curlew, Numenius tenuirostris, 'the slim beak of the new moon', is one of the world's rarest birds. It once bred in Siberia and wintered in the Mediterranean basin, passing through the wetlands and estuaries of Italy, Greece, the Balkans and Central Asia. Today the Slender-billed Curlew exists as a rumour, a ghost species surrounded by unconfirmed sightings and speculation. The only certainty is that it now stands on the brink of extinction. Birds are key environmental indicators. Their health or hardship has a message for us about the planet, and our future. What does the fate of the…

Book cover of Journeys to the Other Side of the World

Why did I love this book?

Attenborough’s books describing his early travels while making various Zoo Quest films in the 1950s and early 1960s were republished in 2018 and it is a delight to re-read about the many challenges he faced to secure footage of enormously rare animals, especially as his tales are all delivered with brilliant British understatement. Attenborough has an acute eye for wildlife as well as a talent for communicating the atmosphere of a place and sympathy with the people he meets and charms. His films and his writing including on the lemurs of Madagascar had me dreaming of my own expeditions and adventures, and which ultimately I was lucky enough to make real.

By David Attenborough,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journeys to the Other Side of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'With charm, erudition, humour and passion, the world's favourite natural history broadcaster documents some of his expeditions from the late 1950s onwards' Sunday Express

Following the success of the original Zoo Quest expeditions, the young David Attenborough embarked on further travels in a very different part of the world.

From Madagascar and New Guinea to the Pacific Islands and the Northern Territory of Australia, he and his cameraman companion were aiming to record not just the wildlife, but the way of life of some of the indigenous people of these regions, whose traditions had never been encountered by most of…

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