The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire


231 pages
ISBN 1-55054-632-5
DDC 305.8






Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is the former executive director of the Canadian Museum
of Nature.


This outstanding collections of essays draws together seven new works
and earlier material from Wade Davis’s Shadows in the Sun: Essays on
the Spirit of Place (1992). Davis, an ethnobotanist and accomplished
writer, explains how his Canadian boyhood experiences, his training
under Harvard’s renowned Richard Schultes, and his extensive
travels—especially in the Amazon and Himalayas—have led to his
wide-ranging activities.

Davis’s interest in drugs from native plants and animals underlie
several of the essays, such as those on Andean cactus and Amazonian
ayahuasca. His account of investigating possible “mind drugs” in
toads is both fascinating and hilarious. Elsewhere, the vulnerability of
the global rubber industry, still highly dependent on plantations
susceptible to crippling fungus, is well described. There are also
depictions of Haitian life; loss of Amazonian forest, a search for the
clouded leopard in Tibet; and Bruno Manser, who has led the Penan people
of Borneo in opposing the logging of their lush forests. Canadian
content includes narwhal hunting by Inuit with attendant history and
analysis; a tour of British Columbia’s vast Spatsizi region; and the
logging-induced demise of the magnificent West Coast forests, home of
the Nisga’a and others. The two essays on filmmaking—one set in
Jordan and based on a Balzac tale of love between a man and a leopard,
and the other set in Tangier and based on a novel by Paul Bowles—while
perceptive, are not really in keeping with the other essays.

The narrative is rich and flowing, sparkling with acute insight. Within
and across the essays a pleasing diversity of material is finely
interwoven: biological wonders, cultural patterns, colorful individuals
ranging from shamans to trappers. One could quibble with a few claims
(such as “[f]orests have two major strategies”) but not with the
author’s profound observations concerning the impact of habitat on
psyche, and the natural and cultural loss resulting from the “cruel
and sordid” activities that characterize so much of the modern
economy. This finely crafted and highly recommended book is marred only
by the absence of a bibliography.


Davis, Wade., “The Clouded Leopard: Travels to Landscapes of Spirit and Desire,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024,