Man, 30, completes encyclopedia of animals he started at nine

Josh Gabbatiss began survey of all living creatures more than two decades ago with corals, worms and jellyfish

Josh Gabbatiss was nine when he precociously decided he was going to write an encyclopedia of every living creature, beginning with corals, worms and jellyfish.

More than two decades later, aged 30, he has finally completed the project and could not be more proud. His final entry is one of our closest relatives, the chimpanzee.

Gabbatiss, a climate journalist from south London, began “Josh’es Book of Animals” [sic] in 2001. His drawings and grammar have come a long way but the handwriting, he said, “has remained pretty terrible”.

He recently shared his finished creation on Twitter, recalling that he copied the format he saw in “rival” animal books.

“You can tell that I was in it for the long haul because instead of going straight for the big charismatic species I started with corals, worms etc.”

Josh Gabbatiss now.
Josh Gabbatiss now. Photograph: Ellie Demetri/PA

The book is composed of 118 pages divided into six sections, including invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. It includes descriptions and terminology, as well as an index at the end of each section “in case any of my readers wanted to find something specific”.

Gabbatiss, who grew up in west Oxfordshire, said he worked on the book consistently from nine into his teens.

He rattled through fish, amphibians, reptiles and then got to birds, probably his weakest section. “Quite text-heavy in an effort to fill up space,” he said, with hindsight. “I was probably in my early teens at this point and I think I was keen to get to the end.”

Gabbatiss’s studies of barnacles and other crustaceans, and spiders.
Gabbatiss’s studies of barnacles and other crustaceans, and spiders. Photograph: Josh Gabbatiss/PA

In his mid to late teens other things started getting in the way. “There was a period towards the end of my teens as I got distracted … when it was a bit more sporadic,” he said.

He got through most of the mammals but, with only about three pages to go, the book was pushed to one side during his university years. “The animal book was too precious to move to a different city,” he said.

That might have been that but for the Covid lockdown. He dived back in and worked through some of the more obscure mammal groups including tree shrews and flying lemurs.

And then he pushed it aside again until last month. “So now, with this final drawing of a chimpanzee this two-decade project is complete! If anyone wants to publish it lmk,” he said on Twitter.

The final page of Gabbatiss’s book, on chimpanzees.
The final page of Gabbatiss’s book, on chimpanzees. Photograph: Josh Gabbatiss/PA

Gabbatiss said it showed that childhood passions should not be taken lightly. “For me it feels really special because I know that in many ways, I feel the same way as I did when I was nine about these things.

“I feel just as excited about this stuff.”

The response to his book has been wonderful, he said, with lots of people remembering their own childhood obsessions.

“Or they’re talking about the stuff that their children are obsessed with now, which I think is really cute, how their child is really into dinosaurs or something like that.”


Mark Brown

The GuardianTramp

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