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Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger Hardcover – April 5, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mittelbach and Crewdson (coauthors of Wild New York) use the titular beast as an excuse for an engaging if feckless conservationist road trip through Tasmania. A marsupial predator known for its 120-degree gape, the tiger is presumed extinct, but unverified sightings have anchored it on cryptozoologists' Most Wanted lists. The authors stake out likely haunts, talk to tiger investigators and skeptics, take in the pop-culture mania that has made the tiger Tasmania's unofficial mascot and visit a lab that's trying to clone the animal from a pickled 139-year-old specimen. The tiger hunt is often sidetracked to observe wallabies; giant crayfish; a variety of gross, menacing bugs; and the celebrated Tasmanian devil, a voracious marsupial scavenger whose "guttural, demonic screaming" is "a combination of rabid dog and Linda Blair in The Exorcist." Tasmanian fauna is not especially charismatic and often appears as roadkill, which carpets the island's blacktops and forms an intrusive narrative motif. Indeed, the most exotic creature is the Byronic, usually stoned artist Alexis Rockman, who accompanied the authors and supplies ghostly illustrations done in such impeccably authentic media as "wombat fecal matter and acrylic polymer on paper." His antics up the book's gonzo factor. and the authors' lively writing will keep readers' spirits high. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The Tasmanian tiger, also known as the thylacine, is a probably extinct carnivore from the island of Tasmania. Doglike in form, the thylacine was a pouched predator. Nature writers Mittelbach and Crewdson fell in love with a taxidermy specimen that they discovered while doing research at the American Museum of Natural History. Their friend, artist Alexis Rockman, grew up roaming the halls of the same museum and also loved the thylacine mount. When they discovered that people still claimed to sight the Tasmanian tiger, and that scientists were attempting to clone one, the trio decided that they needed to go to Tasmania and look for them in the wild. The result is a wonderful romp, part science and part Bill Bryson, as authors and artist visit museums, studying thylacine remains. Rockman's luminous illustrations of the thylacines and other native wildlife illuminate this marvelous search for an elusive, charismatic animal. The story will appeal to lovers of both travel and nature writing. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; First Edition first Printing edition (April 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060028
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060023
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,645,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Carnivorous Nights on the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger follows three New Yorkers, authors Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson and their artist friend Alexis Rockman as they search for the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger. The thylacine is presumed to have been hunted to extinction with the last known individual dying in Beaumaris zoo in 1936. There have been many sightings since then and many still hold hope the Thylacine persists somewhere on the island of Tasmania.

As you might expect, the trio find little evidence of the Tiger in their travels but provide a lot of information on its natural history and some of the more credible recent sightings. They also spend a lot of time checking out Tasmania's many other non-extinct weird and wonderful animals, and I believe they give a good feel for the general atmosphere on the Island. I read this book a few months prior to my own trip to Tassie and it lead me to visit Marakoopa caves and check out the glow worms, which was really fantastic. As far as an informative and interesting book on the wildlife of Tasmanian goes, it earns five stars.

I had to take two stars off however for what are basically stylistic reasons. Normally this doesn't bother me too much, but in this case it turned what would have been a great book into something that was a bit of an effort to read.

The first problem is that this book intends to be a bit of a wacky-travel-adventure read. That in its self is fine (check out Redmond O'Hanlon's "Into the Heart of Borneo" for a perfect example of how it can work) but the problem here is that we have three Americans traveling in Australia, a first world English speaking country. Let's face it, they don't have any really wacky adventures.
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Format: Hardcover
Humans have a fantastic ability to destroy. We are in essence the most dangerous animal alive and of living things only microorganisms are able to cause as much or more havoc. Island life forms are the most vulnerable to the human onslaught. Among our numerous disasters, the isolated biota of Australia and Tasmania has heavily felt the result of that attack. Many species are extinct and many more on the edge because of humans and their attendant placental associates like cats, foxes and rabbits.

Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson, attended by their highly eccentric illustrator Alexis Rockman and his girl friend Dorothy Spears and occasionally others, including several Tasmanian inhabitants, became involved in their hunt for one of the victims of this human invasion, the supposed extinct Tasmanian tiger, and the result is a very eccentric and very interesting book "Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger."

I have to admit that the Tassie tiger intrigues me as well, ever since I saw an old photo of one yawning their impossibly wide yawn. The somewhat dog-like body combined with tiger stripes and huge number of teeth (much like the opossum - its North American relative) makes it a charming animal, despite its reputation as a sheep-killer. Supposedly the last one died in a zoo in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1936, but continued reports of sightings made the tiger legendary. The authors (like some of the people they interview in Tasmania) become totally obsessed with looking for these elusive beasts (and who knows perhaps they will come back from the brink much like the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker!
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Format: Hardcover
The book is depressing because it's about extinction and endangerment; it's funny because our authors manage to stay optimistic and cheerful in the face of extinction. They have an extremely clear eye for the foibles of humans, as well as for the traits of the animals they see. It takes talented writers to make roadkill amusing; these guys manage it.

If you've ever read Gerald Durrell, then you would find this book similar, both in the attitude toward travel and the observations of native humans. The humor is somewhat similar, too, although of course Durrell's is a bit dated by now. If you read and enjoy this book, then I'd strongly encourage you to go find and read anything you can by Gerald Durrell, especially his earlier books.

Completely by coincidence, during the same week that I read this book, I read a story by Harry Turtledove in a science fiction magazine, and an article in a newspaper about lemurs. Turtledove's story was about an alternate history where the island of Atlantis did not sink, and it has a great deal of unique island wildlife, like Tasmania or Madagascar. The plot of the story was that John James Audubon goes to visit Atlantis to sketch and paint all the endangered wildlife there - because of course, the incursion of man onto the island has endangered most of the species. The story highlights the casual cruelty of 19th-century practices, killing rare animals just to pose and paint them and stuff them for museums; I contrasted that to the care that Mittlebach et al. take not to kill anything, and Alexis' efforts to connect to the animals he is painting by using their bioproducts to make paint.
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