In the Nyanja language, bulu means “wild dog,” and that’s what Steve and Anna Tolan named the beloved little Jack Russell mix they adopted. Disregarding warnings about the dangers of raising a dog in the bush, the Tolans moved from England to rural Zambia to fulfill their lifelong dream of setting up an animal rescue and conservation center. What they never imagined were the incredible bonds Bulu would create, and the roller-coaster adventure of his life in the wild. He nursed and protected other animals in their care and had amazing radar to sense when dangerous predators were close. On various occasions his wanderlust led him directly into confrontations with attacking lions and a spitting cobra, in which he barely escaped with his life. Bulu’s energy, high spirits, and loyalty to his masters make the book read like a praise song to dogs. Houston’s account is an animal-lover’s delight, complete with the action-adventure of surviving the bush, fighting poachers, and spreading a message of conservation.
VOYA - Barbara Johnston
When a serous injury curtails Steve Tolan's career as a police officer, he and wife, Anna, sell their possessions and move from England to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia. They embark upon their lifelong dream of establishing a wildlife education center to help diminish the exploitation of animals in the wild. An unwanted terrier pup wins their affection, and they name him Bulu (wild dog). While Steve and Anna go about the daily business of the center, Bulu becomes a caring surrogate parent of two orphaned baby wart hogs. Venturing ever farther into the wild, Bulu encounters greater dangers and exhibits increasingly protective behavior of both the Tolans and their rescued animals. Bulu's remarkable will to live is critical in his subsequent recoveries from several bouts of tryps (sleeping sickness caused by tsetse flies) and even a horrific attack by lions. Right up to his death at age nine, he continues his extraordinary concern for orphaned and abused animals. The story line of this book advances well, and Bulu completely captures the reader's heart. Word pictures describing the setting"first light of dawn snuffed out the stars"are often exceptional. Actual black-and-white photographs of the flooding of the Luangwa River and Bulu with the animals or his owners, however, reinforce that it is nonfiction. The depth and the scope of key information about Zambia, its ecosystem, the snaring of animals, and the behavior of wildlife make this book much more than a memorable dog story. Reviewer: Barbara Johnston
Children's Literature - Mary Bowman-Kruhm Ed.D.
Steve and Anna Tolan leave England to live and build an education center in Zambia that teaches youngsters about the need to protect wildlife from poachers eager to make money from the sale of either ivory or exotic meats. Describing life in Africa is not an easy task, but from page one, where Houston describes the Tolan's circular home on the bank of a river as a huge dried-up cupcake, life there is made real and described through their relationship with mixed-breed terrier Bulu, which means "wild dog" in the local language. In creating his easily readable and entertaining story, the author moves through emotional adventures with Bulu as friend and protector to two baby warthogs, two orphaned vervet monkeys, and a baboon to dangerous encounters with crocodiles, elephants, lions, and a spitting cobra. Descriptions are lively; for example, when an elephant shakes a tree, it "became like a huge pinata showering the ground with mangoes" and young readers will readily relate to Steve's explanation of how diet determines the look and composition of excrement: "?Eewww.' The students made faces and giggled." Numerous themes run throughout this engrossing tale of adventure, including survival, beauty that contrasts the difficulty of life in the African bush, wildlife conservation, the bonds between and among humans and animals, and the conclusion Anna reaches that "this brave little dog had a soul." Personal black and white photos emphasize the nonfiction narrative, although a note in the back acknowledges the author took liberties with dialogue and characters and combined some events to create highly recommended supplemental reading for middle grade social studies curriculum. Reviewer: Mary Bowman-Kruhm, Ed.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—This is the story not only of a remarkable terrier but also of the natural African landscape and the people who wish to educate others about the value of animals. Bulu, "wild dog" in the local Nyanja language, was at first unresponsive and unlike the other puppies in his litter. Steve and Anna Tolan were warned about having a pet in the wilds of Africa but they saw something different in him. He soon became a part of the family and helped as the Tolans set up a wildlife education center in Zambia. Bulu acted as a foster parent to orphaned animals and survived against great odds. With vivid descriptions of the land and encounters with wild animals, this book will appeal to dog lovers as well as to readers who like adventure. Easy to read, with short chapters and black-and-white photographs throughout, this true story will hold the interest of even the most reluctant readers.—Denise Moore, O'Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD
A deeply moving account of a soulful dog. After Anna and Steve Tolson moved from England to an isolated home in Zambia to found a wildlife education center, they wished for a good dog, but they had been warned that no pet could be safe there. In spite of this, they adopted Bulu, a Jack Russell terrier-cross puppy, who readily adapted to life in the bush but never relinquished his supreme belief in himself, willing to challenge even lions and elephants to protect his "family." That family grew to include numerous orphaned wild animals that the Tolsons fostered during Bulu's life-with his tender loving care lavished upon them. While this effort portrays major events in the dog's life, it also includes information about conservation issues in Africa and the Tolson's dedicated environmental-education work with children. The only downside: Houston's fly-on-the-wall reporting style includes dialogue and details that can only be surmised; he later apologizes for changing "the sequence of certain events" and combining "similar episodes" in order to "maintain the integrity of the story line." As fiction based on fact, thoroughly absorbing. (glossary) (Fiction. 10 & up)
Read an Excerpt
"Don't get a dog if you're going to live in the African bush," Mitch warned Steve and Anna as they sat in the shade of their gazebo overlooking the Luangwa River. "Several years ago, some friends of mine lost a dog to a leopard. Snatched him right off the porch." Mitch looked to the river, where a crocodile was crawling onto a sandbar. "I've run safaris for nearly forty years in the Luangwa Valley. I've never seen a pet survive here beyond a few months." He gestured at the hippo pod mid-river, grumbling in the steam-bath heat. "Need I remind you?" He grinned his crooked smile. "There's tons of risks for a dog in the Zambian bush."
"Anna and I know a few things about risks," Steve said with a wink at Anna as she poured tea into tin cups. The two smiled as they glanced over at their African-style house, fifty yards from the gazebo. It was a one-room circular rondavel, made of wood and straw with a thatched roof. It rested like a huge dried-up cupcake under a wild mango tree. Inside, a kerosene refrigerator sweated to keep perishable food cold, an old propane stove smoked their meals, and a shower rained river water behind a wicker screen. Cobras slithered inside when they forgot to close the door. Scorpions dropped onto the mosquito net over their bed. Lions' roars rattled the reed walls. But despite the risks, Steve and Anna loved life in Zambia's untamed South Luangwa Valley. They were living their dream.
"Nevertheless," Mitch continued, "this is no place for a dog."
"Oh now, Mitch," Anna persisted. "Didn't you just say that there were puppies for sale at the old crocodile farm?"
"You really are determined, aren't you?" Mitch shook his head and brushed back his long white hair.
"When Anna makes up her mind, there's no turning back." Steve laughed. "Why else do you think we left England to live here?"
"Okay, if you must know. Yesterday I saw Hank at the croc farm. There were five pups in the litter. Four are sold, but nobody wants the last one. His father was a Jack Russell. Terriers are usually full of energy and bouncing off the walls. But this one is unresponsive. Too quiet. Its legs are too long and it has a pointy face. You should look around for a different dog."
Anna thought for a moment. "Why should we look further?" She sat back in her canvas chair, folded her arms, and narrowed her eyes at Mitch. "Sounds to me like this dog is different."
"Well, I guess in a way he is." Mitch shrugged. "Look, if you get the dog, you must know this. Owning one will bring you nothing but heartache. Sooner or later he will get bitten by a tsetse fly and be infected with the trypanosome parasite. It causes sleeping sickness. Most wild animals are immune. But the disease is the number one killer of domestic animals in Africa." He reached for the teapot. "And keep your eye on him. After all, he's part terrier. If he goes chasing after something in the bush ... he may get eaten."
Like a drunken rhino, the Land Rover swayed between holes and ruts on the muddy road. It was November, the beginning of the rainy season. Steve and Anna turned onto a narrow track lined with a carpet of sprouting grass. A faded crocodile farm sign peeked through the green brush. The old cement pools and tanks that once held crocodiles were now cracked with weeds and roots. The creatures had been raised there for their skins until the business, like the crocs, went belly up. The grounds were now being converted into lodging facilities for tourists. African workers on ladders were thatching new roofs for the cottages.
Steve parked the Land Rover beside a single-story house with a red tin roof. Hank, a stocky man in baggy shorts, stepped off the porch to greet them. "Sorry, my friends. We're fresh out of flat dogs!" he joked, flat dogs being the Zambian nickname for crocs.
Anna laughed as she and Steve climbed out of the truck. "We came to look at a real dog, actually."
"Only one left," said Hank. "A male. Come have a look."
Hank led them inside. He opened the door to a dimly lit room and pulled back a burlap curtain at the window. "Well, here he is." On the floor was an old cardboard box lined with a white blanket. As their eyes adjusted to the light, a brown patch appeared on the blanket framing the head of a white puppy. The dog was curled up on his side, sleeping. The single brown spot on his back looked like it had dropped from a paintbrush. "He's so little,"Anna said softly as she carefully picked him up and cradled him in her arms. Steve looked at him closely. "There's something about his face. It's so familiar. I can't quite place it."
Anna glanced at Steve, who was now grinning at her. She smiled back. "Hank, I think we'll take him," she said. "How much do we owe you?"
"Dinner at your place--all I can eat. I'll get you a fresh box to take him home in."
"That won't be necessary." Anna cuddled the puppy close to her chest. "I brought Marty's bed."
"Marty?" said Hank. "An old friend we had to leave behind in England," Anna answered in a thin voice.
"Oh, I see." Hank nodded, understanding. "A very dear old friend, I'm sure."
From the Hardcover edition.