The Most Dangerous Year
Book Review by Jennifer Reeder
WWF Communications Officer
Yakkinn the Swamp Tortoise: The Most Dangerous Year, by Guundie
and Gerald Knuckling, combines entertaining text and beautiful color
illustration to describe the unique lifecycle of the endangered Western
Swamp Tortoise. The story follows Yakkinn, a newborn tortoise, and
her siblings as they struggle through the first year of their lives,
"the most dangerous year."
Gerald Kuchling, the author, does a fantastic job of presenting the
interactions of nature and relationships between animals, habitat,
and seasonal changes in a sympathetic manner. The reader's appreciation
of the book is enhanced with the knowledge that his love of Yakkinn,
an Aboriginal word for turtle, has led him to devote his life to scientific
research and conservation of the tortoise.
Kuchling came to Australia from Austria in 1987, when the number of
Western Swamp Tortoises had dropped to only 19 in captivity, making
it the rarest tortoise in the world and rapidly approaching extinction.
Kuchling's revolutionary use of ultrasound scanners, sponsored in
part my WWF, for captive breeding resulted in a major breakthrough.
The decline was reversed, and there are now approximately 150 Western
Swamp Tortoises. Obviously they are still in danger, but the crisis
The illustrations in The Most Dangerous Year by Guundie Kuchling,
who graduated as a Master of Fine Arts in Vienna, are vivid depictions
of the story. Her extensive background in art is apparent, and her
pictures complement Gerald's text beautifully. Together, they form
a children's book for all ages.
Incidentally, the book has recently been shortlisted for the national
Awards of Excellence in Educational Publishing (sponsored by TREAT,
The Australian, and ABPA).
In The Most Dangerous Year, what comes across is the basic struggle
for survival in the wild. We understand the natural threats to young
Western Swamp Tortoise hatchlings from the actual story and the brief
information about their conservation that follows the conclusion.
In light of the natural forces that the hatchlings must survive, it
seems incredible that the Western Swamp Tortoise has been able to
withstand the real threats to its existence: introduced predators
and urban sprawl.