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December 10 , 2008

The Wildest Game


Peter Ryhiner ― hero, adventurer, and romantic― was one of the world's most active wild animal collectors.  Born in Basel, Switzerland, on January 1, 1920, Peter knew by the time he was eight years old that he wanted to be a naturalist and explorer ― and thought about nothing else.  His parents listened to him with good natured amusement, but were not so amused when his interests caused him to flunk out of two schools and precipitated his expulsion from a third for truancy. Eventually, throwing up their hands in frustration, his family off his funds, and Peter had to use all his ingenuity to figure out how to continue collecting and studying animals ― including breeding and developing unusual strains of mice, taming adders, and holding tortoise races.  By the age of twenty, after a brief stint in the calvary during WW II and some time spent working for Geigy, a Swiss chemical company, he and an associate from Geigy's began importing animals as a side venture and Peter was soon launched in the animal business.

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"I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folk are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed."            ―The Scarecrow of Oz, from The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank BaumDuring the lifetime of Daniel P. Mannix, freaks were…

His journeys led him around the globe, straight through Europe, South America, Africa and Asia, where he captured and sold thousands of animals to zoos and wildlife parks. His adventures were astonishing ― trampled, crushed, chased, bitten, and almost drowned ―  the animals he sought not only provided Peter with a lucrative, though unpredictable, career, but repeatedly inspired a greater and greater curiosity and love for the wild animals of the world. Peter Ryhiner rarely carried a gun, his intention was not to harm but to study and learn and to educate others, and, in fact, he was a man with a vision well ahead of his time. As his success grew he was sought as a lecturer and made many television appearances. Soon, however, currency restrictions, conservation laws, regulations against importing or exporting many species, and transportation costs took their toll.  Although increased awareness and protection of wild animals was desperately needed, new laws and higher costs  meant that Peter Ryhiner and other wild animal collectors of the time gradually faded into oblivion.

I must admit that I began reading this book expecting to wince and grimace in outrage at the practices of wild animal capture during an era when regulations were few and wild animals expendable. Nothing could be further from the truth.  I enjoyed this book immensely.  Yes, there were moments when the story was almost unbearable, but I was also deeply moved by Peter Ryhiner's astounding adventures, his commitment to animals, and his driving ambition to live life, his life, to the fullest.

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