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In spring 2005, cardiologist Barbara Horowitz was called from her usual work place, the UCLA medical centre, to an entirely different work setting. Los Angeles Zoo medical team were struggling with one of their animals, Spitzbuben the emperor tamarin. As the UCLA is the leading heart-transplant hospital and their cardiologists have seen, diagnosed and treated just about every heart problem seen in the human species staff from the hospital are sometimes called to help with more complex animal illnesses. So, when little Spitzbuben was battling with heart failure, Horowitz was called in.
During treating Spitzbuben, Horowitz found herself being told to stop making eye contact with the tamarin as this would give her capture myopathy. The gaze Horowitz so often gave the humans she were treating which acted as a reassuring and comforting look had the exact opposite effect on some animals, including this primate. The 'don't be scared, I'm here and everything will be okay look' could have been translated to 'I'm going to kill you and eat you' to Spitzbuben causing her to be quite literally scared to death. When Horowitz looked this up she immediately recognised these symptoms. Humans suffer from capture myopathy too, it goes by a different name though, takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Takosubo cardiomyopathy causes heart contractions to become 'inefficient spasms' due to a bulge in the left ventricle, it is caused by emotional stress, the death of a loved one or unmanageable amounts of debt, for example.
On learning this Horowitz starts to research other illnesses and diseases which both human and non-human share. Her journey leads her to finding that, at least some of the time, the best way for find a cure for a human illness is simply to talk to vets and vice versa. Zoobiquity takes us on this journey with her and reveals some powerful, interesting and quite inspirational stories.
The book is written entirely from the perspective of Barbara Horowitz however journalist Kathryn Bowers contributed to the writing and interviews needed to create this book which is detailed in the Authors' note at the beginning of the book. The way the book has been written does allow everything to flow in a much simpler way however does mean Bowers is unforgivably easy to overlook.
Zoobiquity is split into twelve chapters, each one dealing with a different illness. The writing style in each is easy to follow and understand despite the amount of medical jargon contained. Everything is fully and sufficiently explained meaning that even someone like me, with a GCSE in biology being the closest thing I have to any medical expertise, can understand everything which is mentioned. The writing style does, however, start to get a little boring after a while. More often than not, a new illness is introduced by the explanation of all too familiar circumstance we can probably all relate to, it is then revealed that the animal dealing with this circumstance isn't human. At first this was quite powerful and thought-provoking but after a couple of times it did leave a sarcastic 'surprise, surprise' thought in my head.
Despite that, the content never gets boring. Between them, Horowitz and Bowers have put in a lot of research and uncovered some very interesting and unusual cases in the animal/human illness crossover. On the journey which is this book we learn about fainting in dogs, monkeys, chipmunks and even unborn babies all caused by the same emotion - fear. We meet dinosaurs with cancer, we learn of a vet in America who's research breakthrough on the treatment of melanoma in dogs has gone on to influence how melanoma is now treated in humans. We even learn of the few species which have evolved in a way which makes them immune from cancer.
But the book doesn't just look at life threatening illness such as cancer. Chapter four, entitled 'Roar-gasm', divulges deep into the sexuality and sexual drive in animals and humans too. We meet Lancelot, the horse suffering with erectile dysfunction. We discover that it's not just humans and dolphins who have sex for pleasure after all as there are heaps of cases in a vast variety of species which show mating routines when a female is not fertile or receptive. STD's in non-human animals are explored with some quite shocking findings!
We come across non-human animals addicted to drugs (and not because some idiot has decided a smoking chimp is a crowd pleaser), we learn of self-harm in birds and postnatal depression in apes. We discover wild animals who overindulge and become overweight, even obese, just for the pleasure of food and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, animals who simply refuse food when available and starve themselves to death.
Zoobiquity is a thoroughly interesting and intriguing book. If you're the type of person who likes to finish a book feeling as though you've learnt something and gained something from the experience then this is absolutely a book for you. It's clearly written and uses to easy to understand language whilst uncovering truths you'd never had believed. I really struggled to put this one down and I'd completely recommend it.
Published by Virgin Books, 2012.
ISBN - 9780753539835
Pages - 320
Price - £9.09 on Amazon (from £5.66 used and £5.70 new). Kindle edition £8.64