The way children learned about animals when I was a boy was through a TV show called “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”
The syndicated show aired on WHO-TV in the Des Moines metro on Sunday nights if I recall.
The show was hosted by zoologist Marlin Perkins.
Perkins wore stylish, conservative dark suits. His hair was silver, and his mustache matched. He had the kind of twinkle that people do when they love their job.
Perkins showed films of conservation efforts around the world.
He often narrated the activities of his friend and fellow zoologist, Jim Fowler.
Films usually showed Fowler in tan safari clothes wrestling with an alligator or lion.
Fowler engaged in this grappling to sedate the animals so they could be tagged, and their actives traced by small radio transmitters inserted into ear piercings.
Sometimes the films showed Perkins in the field, too, complete with a pith helmet and ascot.
I don’t know if I learned very much about animals from this show, but it kept me entertained for a half-hour on Sunday evenings.
I thought of Perkins and Fowler last week when two headlines caught my attention in the news feeds.
The first came from a local TV station. It read: “Brain-eating amoeba shuts down Iowa beach.”
Someone from Missouri visited the Lake of Three Fires in Taylor County. They went for a swim and came down with a life-threatening infection associated with a rare amoeba.
There have been about 160 cases of this infection since 1962. Only four people survived it.
If the pandemic did anything, it’s to remind us that the deadliest life forms on earth are the ones we can’t see without a microscope.
Though a recent headline out of Florida suggests plenty of animals in the visible spectrum are deadly.
Giant snails recently infested a Florida town. The snails can grow to the size of a coffee cup.
I’m not sure a coffee cup is a good simile for size anymore. When I was a kid, that was a very specific size and almost always meat it held slightly more than a cup in fluid ounces.
Today’s coffee drinkers have soup bowls with landscape art drawn in the foam.
I hope they mean a 1970s coffee cup and not a 2020s coffee cup.
Regardless, these giant snails carry meningitis, another deadly malady that attacks the brain and spinal cord.
All of this is the long way of me suggesting a fun summer read by a TikTok star.
Believe me, I never thought I would type a paragraph that recommends a book by a social media influencer, but times change and so must I.
Plus, this book is funny.
The writer is by Mamadou Ndiaye. The title is a little tricky to publish in a family newspaper, but the gist of it is, “100 Animals That Can (explicative) End You.”
Ndiaye’s TikTok (@mndiay_97) gives brief lessons on how deadly wild animals — and some not-so-wild ones — are.
Ndiaye rates the American white-tailed deer as the most dangerous animal in America.
The Bambi mafia kills 200 people on an average year in the United States and causes 1.3 million vehicle crashes.
Ndiaye’s writing exposes some gross truths about dolphins that I would have preferred not to know yet could not stop reading.
When I was a boy, the only exposure I had to hippopotamuses was a board game called Hungry, Hungery Hippo that involved plastic hippos capturing marbles.
Ndiaye sets readers straight.
“Hippos aren’t just the most aggressive animals in Africa,” he writes, “they’re one of the most homicidal things to ever have a pulse.”
These 2,000-pound murder machines run 30 mph an hour on land. They’ve been known to capsize boats and maul those who fall overboard.
The hippo is responsible for at least 500 deaths a year in Africa.
Ndiaye ranks the African elephant as the world’s most dangerous animal. Some weigh as much as 12,000 pounds.
Ndiaye details a story about a herd of elephants getting drunk off fermented fruit in India, plowing into a nearby village where they killed three people and destroyed 60 homes.
Reading Ndiaye’s book in combination with recent headlines has taught me one thing: None of these stories involve a person who spends most of his time inside watching Johnny Carson reruns on Pluto TV.
I don’t know what the rest of you people are going to do, but that’s how I plan to avoid murderous amoeba, snails, and elephants, oh my.
Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
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