I wish I’d met Louis Guillette.
Lou was an internationally known research scientist and a passionate facilitator and advocate for science education from South Carolina. For over thirty years, he studied (and photographed) alligators and crocodiles in the wild. His research centered on the links between environmental contaminants and infertility and reproductive issues in alligator populations from Florida to South Carolina. “If the environment is not healthy for a baby alligator or a baby dolphin,” said Guillette, “It’s probably not healthy for us, either.” Lou showed that alligators act as a sentinel species for long-term health effects of environmental exposures, with many parallels to human development and lifespan. Colleagues used words like “extraordinarily enthusiastic” “inspirational force” “dedicated scientist” “charismatic” “funny” to describe Dr. Louis Guillette.
Sadly, Lou Guillette passed away in August 2015.
Lou was gung-ho from the start when I first contacted him in April 2014 to do a kid’s book on alligators. “This is exactly the kind of thing I love working on,” he replied in his email. I’d proposed a book called The Alligator Scientist. After this upper elementary idea lost traction, I directed our collaboration to a younger audience.
I’d studied alligators as a backcountry wilderness ranger at Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia. I knew that American Alligators are A1 mothers. They use strong jaws of fearsome teeth to protect their young, sometimes for up to 2 years. Inspired by Lou’s amazing photographs, I wrote Alligators Make the BEST Moms.
While photographing crocodiles in South Africa, Lou and his team were often tracked by lions and charged by hippos. All in a day’s work, he would say. “Being a scientist is the four best jobs on Earth,” Lou Guillette said, “You are a detective, adventurer, an artist and storyteller.”
Lou never lived to see the efforts of our collaboration. I think he’d have been pleased.
I’ve got a grin as wide as a gator as I introduce my new book, Alligators Make the BEST Moms.
Grade level: K – 3rd grade
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: West River Press
$10, includes shipping and handling
To order a copy of Alligators Make the BEST Moms, please contact Heather Swinburne at firstname.lastname@example.org