Eli Greenbaum, Ph.D., is passionate about the work he has conducted throughout the past decade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The associate professor of evolutionary genetics in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Biological Sciences parlayed that ardor into a book, “Emerald Labyrinth: A Scientist’s Adventures in the Jungles of the Congo,” published by University Press of New England in 2017.
The tome chronicles the herpetologist’s years exploring the rainforests of sub-Saharan Africa. Greenbaum said he wrote it to educate others on the vast array of wildlife that is struggling to survive in a war-torn, environmentally threatened country.
But Greenbaum has done more than educate. He has made an impression.
His book has been well-received and was met with numerous positive reviews upon its release. The acclaim was capped last month with a mention as one of Forbes magazine’s 10 Best Biology Books of 2017.
The magazine had high praise for Greenbaum, stating, “In his dedication to discover and study snakes, lizards, and frogs, this daring scientist goes into the field in one of the most dangerous and remote places on Earth, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). … Meticulously researched, fast-paced and beautifully illustrated with lots of photographs, this book seamlessly blends scientific discovery, memoir and travelogue with the historical context of the DRC’s almost legendary corruption.”
“I didn’t even know the publisher sent the book to Forbes,” Greenbaum said. “But, of course, I was happy to hear the news. I think it’s great publicity for UTEP.”
The news came less than a month after a snippet of Greenbaum’s book was published at Smithsonian.com. The excerpt tells the story of an encounter Greenbaum’s team had with a black-necked spitting cobra. The reptile was captured and initially identified as a Central African sand snake before Greenbaum caught sight of the snake’s distinct round head.
The incident took a turn when one of Greenbaum’s employees, who was trying to help secure the snake, was hit in the eye by a stream of the cobra’s venom. A potentially serious medical disaster was averted when the quick-thinking team found a young mother in a nearby Congolese village who put modesty aside and squeezed breastmilk into the afflicted employee’s eye. The milk eased his agony and staved off the harmful effects of the venom. He eventually made a full recovery.
“We all learned a hard lesson,” Greenbaum said.
Despite all he has gleaned from his time in Africa, Greenbaum said he is far from done exploring. He is currently in the midst of his 10th tour of the Congo. He said he intends to visit an area known as Kabobo where renowned herpetologist Raymond Laurent catalogued a slew of frogs in the 1940s including one in particular, callixalus pictus, a chocolate brown frog with bright orange striations.
“No one has seen it since 1952,” Greenbaum said. “Very little is known about it. I want to see how they are doing.”
For the first time, Greenbaum will chronicle his journey as it happens via a satellite modem. He will post stories, photos and videos about twice a week through the middle of February. You can follow his journey online.