// you’re reading...


Isabel Beasley talks about studying dolphins, and her favorite books

Isabel Beasley talks about her favorite books...

READERSVOICE.COM: Could you list your five favorite books of all time and maybe say a bit about why you liked them?
ISABEL BEASLEY: 1. Save the Dolphins by Michael Donoghue and Annie Wheeler.
This book was the reason I first became interested in studying dolphins.
Although the reviews are not so good on this book (eg. amazon.com), it sparked my interest in dolphin conservation and may have done for many others.
2. Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey.
A fascinating and inspirational book about research and conservation of the gorillas of the Virungas, and Dian Fossey’s incredible perseverance to conserve them.
Conservation of large animals in any developing country is difficult.
Although some people question her methods, the gorillas may not have been alive today without her efforts.
3. Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions by David Quammen.
One of the best books I have ever read that combines science and theories with an entertaining and readable storyline.
A huge amount of information in a very well-written book.
4. It’s Not About the Bike – My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong.
An inspirational book about a world-class athlete’s strength and determination to recover from cancer and continue his career.
5. The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh.
Following on from the exceptional Glass Palace (which I also liked), this book provides the most accurate (and probably only) fictional account of a female cetacean researcher working in a developing country – and also features the Irrawaddy dolphins (which are far more endearing than how they are described in the book)
RV: What was the project you started after commencing research at the Mekong River in January 2001?
IB: While undertaking my PhD, I established a small organisation, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project, www.mekongdolphin.org, in co-operation with the Cambodian Department of Fisheries (DoF).

The project focussed on research, increasing local awareness of the dolphins, and conservation activities.
RV: Where did you live, exactly? What sort of accommodation, conditions and food did you have?
IB: I lived about five hours north of Phnom Penh in Kratie, a small township along the Mekong River, 150 km south of the Lao border.
I lived in a simple wooden house that was close to the market and some simple restaurants.
I am a slightly picky eater, and can’t eat rice – so I normally ate french fries, noodles with chicken and egg, or fried chicken (which was normally chicken bones they were so thin) and tomatoes.
Luckily, in my last year living in Kratie, an American man opened up a restaurant in Kratie for the tourists – so every day would be a new ‘western’ special dinner which significantly helped out my diet.
During boat surveys up the river I would take a few packets of instant noodles which were easy for the villagers to cook.
RV: What was your daily routine?
IB: Dolphins, dolphins and more dolphins. We were normally out in the field most of the time and for 15 days a month we would be surveying up the river to Laos and then back again.
This was a wonderful experience, staying with very hospitable Cambodian villagers along the river, and every day seeing amazing new things (giant stingrays, endangered birds, dangerous rapids, beautiful scenery and dolphins).
It’s an incredible area.

RV: What sorts of hardships did you face there?
IB: It was very difficult not having anyone to really talk to, or discuss ideas with.
The day to day challenges of living in a developing country (corruption, low capacity of assistants, politics), become exhausting when dealt with alone.
Another hardship was probably the lack of good food – particularly since I didn’t eat rice and am a very picky eater anyway (much preferring meat pies and donuts).
I was also involved in a severe motor bike accident at the end of 2001, where I broke my femur and knee, fractured my skull, and required seven days in intensive care in Bangkok (two in critical condition).
That ruined my 2002 dry season fieldwork, as I wasn’t back to Cambodia until April 2002.
RV: Who were you with there?
IB: My two best friends were my two dogs, Mange and Klar.
It was mainly because of them that I was able to live in Kratie for all those years.
I also had a team of two to three Khmers (Cambodians – ed.) that helped with the surveys and also became my good friends.
There were more westerners down in Phnom Penh who I would see when I went down to the city every few months.
One of the most influential people for me during my time in Cambodia was a young man named Brendan Boucher, whom I met in the last six months I was in Cambodia.
Brendan co-ordinated a group of exceptional young Cambodians to provide rural development to poor subsistence villages in Cambodia – Cambodian Rural Development Team – www.crdt.org.
It was thanks to Brendan and his incredible team that we developed a ‘dolphins for development’ project (funded by the British and Australian Governments) that provided rural development to selected small villages, located near critical dolphin habitats, to encourage their co-operation with conservation efforts.
Although just a new project, it has enormous potential to assist with dolphin conservation and also help poor subsistence villages.