Home Sci-Tech South Africa: How to Vanish – a Staring Zoologist and the Art of Being Invisible

South Africa: How to Vanish – a Staring Zoologist and the Art of Being Invisible

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Wouldn’t you like to try Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility or use Gollum’s ring to disappear? You’re not alone. Nature’s been working on the problem of not being seen for millions of years.

Hugh Bamford Cott was born in Leicestershire, England in 1900 and was schooled at Rugby. He attended Royal Military College Sandhurst, studied at Cambridge and received a doctorate from the University of Glasgow. An impressive pedigree.

He then travelled South America and Africa, becoming fascinated by Nile crocodiles. But what’s really interesting is his abiding obsession with how not to be seen. This led him to develop the ground rules for camouflage.

The word probably comes from camouflet, a French term meaning “smoke blown in someone’s face as a practical joke”. Although in the natural world camouflage is no joke but a matter of survival.

Its dictionary definition is “a set of methods of concealment that allows otherwise visible objects to remain unnoticed by blending with their environment or by resembling something else”. Cott, whose attributes included zoologist, wildlife photographer, writer and skilled illustrator, put it more poetically: “In nature the visible and invisible dance back and…

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