"I really enjoyed the Masters: it was great to have an academic challenge again"

Hunting for the world's largest viper

Dan Eatherley tells us about his new book, Bushmaster: Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the World’s Largest Viper

Please tell us about your book

My book is called Bushmaster: Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the World’s Largest Viper it is non-fiction, about 300 pages and is due for publication in June 2015. You can pre-order it now on Amazon.

Bushmaster blends various narratives – both historical and present day - but is essentially a biography of Raymond Ditmars (1876-1942). Ditmars was a self-taught zoologist who was appointed the first curator of reptiles at New York’s Bronx Zoo when it opened to the public in 1899. An unapologetic champion of snakes, Ditmars wasn’t blind to the devastating effects of their bite, and was instrumental in the development and distribution of antivenom across the USA and beyond, saving many lives. Fresh venom was needed to make the antidote and, at his own risk, Ditmars personally extracted poison from thousands of live snakes.

When he was still living with his parents Ditmars kept a large collection of living specimens in the attic room of the family house in New York City. Among these was a bushmaster which he had been sent from Trinidad. The bushmaster is the largest species of viper in the world.

The bushmaster didn’t survive long in captivity but in its short existence in the Ditmars household it chased the young Raymond around his bedroom. This encounter was momentous for Ditmars and, in the 1930s, inspired several failed expeditions to South America in search of this mysterious and deadly snake. In Bushmaster I follow in Ditmars’s footsteps, describe his extraordinary career, revisit his old haunts - and then go down to South America to try my own luck at finding a bushmaster!


Tell us about your time at Exeter

I came to Exeter in 2005 (aged 32) to undertake an MSc in Sustainable Development. I had a previous degree in zoology from Oxford University and had been worked in Bristol for 9 years in natural history TV production. The TV work first sparked my interest in snakes and Raymond Ditmars.

I really enjoyed the Masters: it was great to have an academic challenge again after the flaky world of the media. I made a few good friends and also loved being so close to amazing beaches, Dartmoor, etc., and have stayed in the city ever since.


What one bit of advice would you give to fellow alumni or current students who want to get their book published?

Be confident. Lack of confidence is the single greatest killer of dreams. Just look out there: in every walk of life are successful but mediocre people who are lucky enough to believe in themselves. Ignore all set backs and dwell on the positives. The second most important piece of advice is making the most of any contacts you have no matter how tenuous. It’s a small world and you’re bound to know someone who knows someone... 


What’s next for you?

More books hopefully. I am also toying with the idea of doing a radio programme, and a movie screenplay.

Follow Dan on Twitter @daneatherley 

Date: 27 May 2015

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