Shitting Pretty – Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth


Dr. Jane Wilson-Howarth graduated first in ecology and then organized a six-month-long expedition to the Himalayas to study lesser wildlife there. Interested in cave life, she soon discovered that a lot could be learned from the brown deposits animals leave behind, as well as from watching creatures themselves. She spent a couple of years at Oxford University studied rabbit parasites, then entered medical school where her friends called her the Shit Doctor because of a continuing interests in parasites and poo. On completion of her studies, she was awarded a B.M. – a bachelor of medicine degree; this is equivalent to the American M.D. qualification.

She organized two research trips to Madagascar where dunes of bat guano hid rare species of invertebrates unknown to science. She also watched and photographed attractive creatures, completing the first-ever study of the endangered crowned lemur in the wild; this involved meticulous observations, and – of course – examinations of their emanations. Her first book, Lemurs of the Lost World, describes the Madagascar expeditions. Field studies in Peru continued on the ecology of excreta, and she worked where mounds of subterranean guano seethed with fascinating crawlies, and where spelunkers risked catching histoplasmosis and rabies.

She has lived in Asia for most of the last eleven years, working on various community health projects in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal; some of this work involved screening people for worms and also encouraging villagers to build and use latrines. She now lives with her husband and two sons in England where she teaches and lectures on travel medicine, works as a general practitioner, and enjoys the luxury of a home with two flush loos. Her two travel health guides, Bug Bites & Bowels (Cadogan Guides) and Your Child’s Health Abroad (Bradt Publications), are published in the U. S. by Globe Pequot.

The book in one sentence: As the subtitle: How to Stay Clean and Healthy While Traveling.

Who would you recommend it to: People who are like Dr. Wilson-Howarth, having a fascination with poo (like yours truly – don’t be disgusted), and would-be travellers to Asian or South American destinations.

Best bits: The hilarious and often gross anecdotes about Mount Montezumas (euphemism for explosive diarrhoea).

Boring bits: Details of medicine and immunisations and whatnot. Incredibly handy though, if you’re planning to travel.

Interesting bit: (Otherwise known as The Mother of All Excrement Tales in This Book)

Zookeeper Friedrich Riesfedt dosed his constipated elephant twenty-two times with laxatives as well as feeding him figs and prunes. Finally, while Riesfedt was administering an olive oil enema, the elephany explosively unloaded 200 pounds of excrement, knocked the keeper unconscious and he suffocated beneath the pile.

– Reported in Himal magazine, Kathmandu, November 1998

Verdict: Incredibly useful and entertaining. Though it may encourage an aversion to Asian and South American places after reading the horror stories.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Anthony
    Apr 03, 2007 @ 03:37:32

    The book certainly has an attention-grabbing title!

    sulz: how else do you think i got attracted to the book? 🙂 it’s also quite a fun read, surprisingly.


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