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The First Safari: Searching for Francois Levaillant

Publish date: 13 January 2020
Issue Number: 855
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: general

The First Safari: Searching for Francois Levaillant

 

By Ian Glenn

Jacana. $26

 

Francois Levaillant was the first and greatest South African birder, the first major figure of modern ornithology, the creator of the first safari, the first anthropologist of the Cape and the first investigative reporter criticising colonial brutality. He predicted the rebellion of the frontier Boers and was the first to portray the dilemmas of coloured identity. His work in creating beautifully illustrated bird books of his time inspired a map for King Louis XVI that has become the most valuable African map ever produced. His Travels into the Interior of Africa was a best seller across Europe and the most widely translated text on SA until Nelson Mandela’s autobiography two centuries later.This book tells how, for a quarter of a century, a South African researcher searched for Levaillant’s travel notebooks and the fate of his collection, and tried to solve the puzzles and mysteries of Levaillant’s life and times. Glenn’s search took him from the banks of the Orange River to the vaults of the Paris Museum where no Dan Brown hero ever went, facing 30 000 dead birds alone in search of Levaillant’s legacy.

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