What's my favorite kind of research? Firsthand research, especially when it takes me to exotic places like the African savanna or a coral reef or a tropical rain forest. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best part of my job. Nothing beats observing animals in their natural environment. This kind of research provides key tidbits of information that are often missing from authoritative books and journal articles about wildlife and wild places.
Here’s an example. When I went to Costa Rica with my husband’s family, one of the animals on my wish list was a three-toed sloth. I was soooo jealous when my husband and brother-in-law spotted one while I was scouting out birds along the river.
But my patience was rewarded. A few days later I saw one, well, actually two. My 7-year-old niece (shown here), spotted a female sloth hanging upside-down with a tiny baby clinging to her. It was a wonderful sight, especially since I shared it with my niece. She was completely enthralled. But let’s be honest. So was I.
I blended my observations of the sloth with my husband’s description of his sighting and my general notes about the rain forests we hiked through to create the opening of my book Sloths.
Deep in a Central American rain forest, spindly spider monkeys spend their days chattering as they leap from branch to branch. Above them, toucans call out to one another as they fly among the treetops. Far below, on the forest floor, butterflies flit among the leaf litter. The woodland is alive with sound and activity.
But one rainforest animal remains silent and still. It is the sloth. All day and most of the night, this shaggy-coated creature hardly moves at all. It hangs upside down and does its best to blend in with its surroundings.
Honestly, when work is this much fun, who needs a vacation?