Following in his hero’s footsteps

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Natural history captured . . . James Ryan, the author of Nature's Wildlife Weapons, outside the Canterbury Museum. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

By Shelley Topp

A Sefton boy, who is inspired by English broadcaster, conservationist, natural historian and author Sir David Attenborough, has written a natural history book.

James Ryan’s book Nature’s Wildlife Weapons will be launched at Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum next Thursday (January 27) to tie in with the museum’s Fur, Fangs and Feathers exhibition.

“Sir David is one of my absolute heroes,” James said. “I watch his programmes all the time.”

The Nature’s Wildlife Weapons book began as a school project in 2019 when James, now aged 12, was a student at Sefton School.

While completing the assignment about animals with special physical qualities, James became so excited about the infomation he was discovering that he wanted to share it with other children his age. With this in mind he sent a copy of his completed assignment, which was in book form, to Bateman Books in Auckland.

They loved his work and decided to publish it.

“They corrected some of my spelling and have done an awesome job with the book,” James said.

The book’s target readers are those aged six to 12, but James is hoping adults will also read his book, which includes sections about “special animals” like the therizinosaurus which lived in Asia about 70 million years ago and “had claws as long as my arm”, and the megalodon, an extinct species of mackerel shark which had teeth the size of a man’s hand.

Each animal featured in the book, including New Zealand’s extinct Haast’s eagle, which is believed to have been the largest eagle to have existed, has an accompanying image. The Haast’s eagle image, one of James’s favourites, was supplied by Nick Keller, senior concept artist at Wellington’s Weta Digital Workshop.

The book also includes a section on Joan Wiffen a self-taught palaentologist who called herself “an amateur” but found the first evidence that dinosaurs had once existed in New Zealand.

James spent many hours researching information for his school project at the Canterbury Museum, which has been a favourite place to visit since his early childhood.

“I was granted behind-the-scenes access to see moa bones and other items that the public do not get to see, so that was pretty special,” he said.

The foreword for his book was written by Canterbury Museum director Anthony Wright, who recognised his own, young self in James and generously gave his time to support him.

Nature’s Wildlife Weapons is a fine book, full of science and history, but what shines through is passion,” Anthony said.

“James’ story of collecting specimens from an early age, of spending countless hours combing the collections of this museum, is a familiar one for many curators.”

James also received help and support from the museum’s communications and marketing manager Vicki Blyth.

She is also the Word Christchurch Festival’s chairwoman and recognised James’s writing talent.

The young author will donate the proceeds from his book to the museum “to give something back” to the staff for their help and support.