Lyall Watson

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Biographical Information

Malcolm Lyall-Watson was born in Johannesburg, the eldest of three brothers. He died in 2008.

"After attending the Rondebosch Boys’ High School in Cape Town, Mr. Watson enrolled at 15 in the University of the Witwatersrand, where he earned degrees in botany and zoology. He would later earn degrees in geology, chemistry, marine biology, ecology and anthropology. He completed a doctorate in ethology, or animal behavior, at the University of London under Desmond Morris, the curator of mammals at the London Zoo and author of “The Naked Ape.”

"After joining the BBC, where he was a producer and reporter on nature documentaries (and dropped his first name), Mr. Watson embarked on a series of ventures. He designed zoos, served as director of the Johannesburg Zoo, ran a safari company in Kenya and created a whale sanctuary in the Seychelles, where his work on the International Whaling Commission helped bring about the current moratorium on commercial whaling...In 1961 he married Vivienne Mawson. The couple divorced in 1966. A second marriage, to Jacquey Visick, also ended in divorce. His third wife, Alice Coogan, died in 2003. He is survived by his brothers Andrew, of Gympie, and Craig, of South Africa.

"As much an adventurer as a scientist, Mr. Watson spent much of his life heading for remote regions of the globe, leading expeditions to the Antarctic, the Kalahari, Madagascar and Indonesia in search of isolated peoples and what he called “the soft edges of science” — paranormal phenomena like the fabled psychic surgery practiced in the Philippines.

"For 12 years he lived on a converted shrimp trawler in the Amazon. Often he traveled with Fred, a tapeworm he introduced into his body in the belief that it warded off stomach ailments. For a time, after marrying his third wife, he lived in the United States, but eventually he settled in West Cork, where he suffered a series of strokes and then came down with Lewy body dementia, a poorly understood disease that combines the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

"In “Supernature: A Natural History of the Supernatural,” published in 1973, Mr. Watson presented a full menu of the fringe phenomena that he found fascinating and that mainstream scientists scoffed at. He suggested that oysters might possess a “tidal memory,” that a knife left under a paper pyramid could sharpen itself and that plants responded sympathetically when a live shrimp was thrown into boiling water.

"The book spent 50 weeks on the best-seller list in Britain and sold 750,000 copies in paperback. A year later, Mr. Watson published “The Romeo Error,” an inquiry into death, the afterlife and the supernatural, and in 1986 he published a sequel to “Supernature” called “Beyond Supernature: A New Natural History of the Supernatural.”

"His more than 20 books, reflecting a wide-ranging curiosity and in some cases a high tolerance for ridicule, included “The Nature of Things: The Strange Behavior of Inanimate Objects” and “The Dreams of Dragons,” as well as studies of whales, wind, water, elephants and sumo. His most recent book, published in 2004, was “The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs.”... "[1]


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  1. NYT Lyall Watson, 69, Adventurer and Explorer of the ‘Soft Edges of Science,’ Dies, organizational web page, accessed June 25, 2013.