Jungle Gems: A Naturalist's Tale
By Yikai Zhang
An illustrated adventure through the jungles of Hainan in search of the most elusive beetle in China
Publication date: Summer 2019
Hardback and giclee print
Signed hardback and giclee print
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A young artist and naturalist strikes up an unusual deal with insect dealer Hakomoto, who offers a box of rare beetles in exchange for artwork of his most prized trophies. The collection contains many enigmatic species from the island of Hainan, including some which may well be new to science. Overjoyed with his unbelievable fortune, the young man decides to bring the beetles to the Natural History Museum in London, where they may be identified by experts. His hopes are further raised when Max Barclay, one of the world’s leading authorities on beetles, becomes baffled by the entire collection, and especially by an evil-looking beetle called Carabus which is not known to exist on the island. However, with only one specimen known to science, they must gather more evidence to establish the validity of the species.
Hesitant to draw any conclusions, Max sends the young naturalist on a mission of his dreams – to undertake an expedition to the jungles of Hainan, and to see if he can find Carabus or any of Hakomoto’s other beetles. In his quest, he encounters some of the most bizarre and wonderful creatures imaginable as he battles the elements, trekking through the great rivers and mountains of the island's rugged interior. What he doesn't know is that the outcome has already been written and, as the cloud of mysteries clears, he is forced to accept a shocking but irrefutable truth...
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I am a 21-year old, self-taught artist with a fascination for the natural world, especially insects and other creepy-crawlies. I spent much of my childhood observing these creatures, which later developed into a passion for outdoor exploration and a curiosity for all knowledge. Through my book I hope to inspire other young people to get out there and experience nature for themselves, as well as to encourage the general public to appreciate the wonderful details that are all around us. It is an ambitious project that involves art, nature, adventure, mystery and science being woven into a complex plot that explores the beauty of nature, the purpose of science and the malleability of truth.
Jungle Gems is a dream that I have wished to fulfil for many years, simply due to the fact that it is a culmination of my best ideas and experiences. The illustrations form an important part of the book and, throughout the story, art is used as a powerful observation tool to gain deeper insight into the subject. The project is currently being supported by Max Barclay, head curator of Coleoptera at the Natural History Museum and one of the four virtual guides at the Darwin Centre. It is to him that I am greatly indebted, both as the inspiration for this book and as my long-time friend and mentor.
Aside from nature and art, I enjoy reading crime novels and watching sci-fi movies, where I derive much of my writing inspiration. On the sporting front I am an ‘adrenaline junkie’ who enjoys rock-climbing, doing handstands and climbing trees.
‘Is that a twig?’ I murmured, leaning over to take a closer look. What drew my attention was a reflection, which I thought came from a piece of metal. I took the dark object from the mud and swivelled it between my fingers, trying to see where the reflections came from. As I tilted it against the dwindling light, flashes of rainbow colours seemed to appear from nowhere. The truth suddenly dawned on me and, for a moment, I could have sworn that my heart stopped beating.
It was an insect’s leg, but monstrous – outstretched, it measured nearly five inches long, and was equipped with spikes and claws that seemed far too large for any insect. In my state of ecstasy, I felt like the fossil-hunter who had just discovered the arm of Deinocheirus, as I was equally baffled by my find. I trembled at the thought of discovering its owner, and looked up at the dark shapes of the foothills towering above me – somewhere in there, in the depths of the jungle, lurked a creature that might have never been glimpsed by humanity before me. I carefully folded the limb into a glass vial, and followed the villagers as they disappeared into the forest.
- 12th February 2018 Illustration Classes, Tours of the NHM and much more!
Thanks to all your pledges, we're now on the home straight at 86%! Now is the perfect chance to upgrade your pledge, and make the most of the special offers that you won't find anywhere else!
1. Have your name immortalized in the biological record! I have collected a few new species in the past, and they're all sitting in the Natural History Museum collections waiting to be named…16th December 2017 Almost there!
I'm very excited to announce that, thanks to some huge pledges that came in last week from family friends, there is less than a quarter of the funding left to muster! I would like to use this as an opportunity to thank all of you for your support, as you are literally making my dream come true. If you know anyone who's particularly interested in nature/art then please help spread the word, and remember…
These people are helping to fund Jungle Gems: A Naturalist's Tale.
Sonja van Amelsfort
Knight of Words
Jaime de la Torre
Harry E. Blevins, Jr.