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Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America
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2016-2022 Book Reads > Wild Ones, by Jon Mooallem

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Brian Griffith | 40 comments Hi, I'd like to introduce a book I read a while back, so I'll explain it by copying in my brief review, below. It impressed me because the author goes and visits people who are driven to save creatures on the edge of extinction, and sees what this actually involves for them. Maybe group members are doing this themselves, or know good stories about these sorts of people, and I'd like to hear about it. Or you could comment on the book itself. Here's my take on it:

Mooallem captures the endless practical problems faced, and only sometimes overcome, by ordinary people who just can't give up on creatures at the edge of extinction. Where most of us wouldn't even notice if a local butterfly, frog, or a migrating crane goes extinct on Thursday, these people end up doing anything -- whatever it takes, even if their whole life goes down a rat hole, to stave off the final loss of one more link in the chain of life. The improvisation and doggedness are incredible. Given the realities of unrelenting expansion of humankind's footprint, the struggle will probably never end, unless it ends in failure. I've almost never seen a more touching tribute to love for other, non-human lives, no matter how hopeless the fight.

message 2: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1588 comments Mod
I asked Brian to help me out a bit with this folder. He seems to have read a lot of books that fit in well with our group. Good luck, Brian.

message 3: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1588 comments Mod
I would love to know a specific story about someone who dedicated their life to helping a living creature and what that living thing was.

message 4: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara | 6279 comments Mod
Wild Ones sounds fascinating.
I can recommend to you the case of the Bermuda petrel.

When Birds Are Near: Dispatches from Contemporary Writers
When Birds Are Near Dispatches from Contemporary Writers by Susan Fox Rogers
See my review.

message 5: by Brian (last edited Sep 20, 2020 02:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brian Griffith | 40 comments Thanks loads Claire. The story of Bermuda cahow birds is fantastic.

message 6: by Brian (last edited Sep 19, 2020 05:04PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brian Griffith | 40 comments Mooallem spends time with people who are trying to save particular species. He goes to Chruchhill, Manitoba and compares those who are simply using polar bears for their tourism business with those who actually help the bears survive. He follows people trying to preserve the last patch of habitat for the Lang's Metalmark Butterfly, near San Francisco. But the most dramatic stories concern people who fly light aircraft to help guide the last groups of Whooping Cranes on their migrations to Florida. This effort involves two escorts of migration per year, and there is no guarantee how long those will take. The wind and weather conditions can halt the trip at any point, and the impact on the volunteers' time, careers, and families is enormous. Yet these people just can't give it up.

message 7: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1588 comments Mod
In this book we covered earlier, we saw examples of different people helping the environment.

message 8: by Brian (last edited Sep 19, 2020 05:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brian Griffith | 40 comments Thanks Jimmy.
One of the things Mooallem stresses is that things are now so precarious that preventing each of the many looming extinctions has become a never-ending battle. As he puts it, “… from here on out, we will be increasingly forced to cultivate the species we want, in the places we protect and police just for them, perpetually rejiggering some asymmetrical balance to keep the each one from sliding into extinction. We are gardening the wilderness. The line between conservation and domestication has blurred.”

message 9: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1588 comments Mod
To be blunt, I believe we are fighting a losing battle. But like Cuchulain in Irish mythology fighting the incoming tide, we press on.

message 10: by Brian (last edited Sep 20, 2020 02:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brian Griffith | 40 comments That's true Jimmy. I think Mooallem tries to distinguish between saying "the battle is never won" and "the battle can't be won." I suspect we're on a steep learning curve. For example, in Africa it seemed fairly simple at first to designate game parks to protect wildlife. Just post some guards and leave the animals alone. But actually, managing these parks grew devilishly complex. It was not just a matter of controlling the poachers, or dealing with evicted local people, or coping with attacks by park animals on the surrounding villages. Within the parks, the wardens found themselves responsible for managing imbalances and conflicts between the animals themselves. To keep an environmental balance over time, the managers felt they had to intervene, responding to booms and busts in animal populations. To do that, the rangers had to concoct ecological policies, as if trying to keep gigantic aquariums from going toxic. The delimited parks were inevitably smaller than what the animals actually needed. Parks were just potential bases of operations, and the semi-protected lions, elephants, zebras, or buffaloes needed to range more widely, through an ever-more densely populated human landscape. The realms of protected wild animals and human communities had to interpenetrate, with the multiple needs of each creature somehow accommodated. It was as if the animals had acquired a kind of citizenship—as if they were ethnic minorities, and an animal’s need could now sometimes trump a human’s greed. This was governance not just in obedience to a central authority or to the popular will of a certain human community. It was an attempt to meet a more basic challenge—how to manage the conflicting interests of all the life forms of a multi-species community within a limited space. To handle it involved a steep learning curve, full of dramatic trials and errors. It was a challenge that took the co-evolution of humans and beasts to a new level.

message 11: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy | 1588 comments Mod
Excellent paragraph there, Brian. We sometimes think animals can live in a restricted area like a national park, but they were used to migrating, especially as populations grew.

Brian Griffith | 40 comments Jimmy wrote: "Excellent paragraph there, Brian. We sometimes think animals can live in a restricted area like a national park, but they were used to migrating, especially as populations grew."

Thanks Jimmy. I just saw in the BBC News that the Kenyan government ordered the closure of a tourist camp built in the Masai Mara that blocked wildebeests from their annual migration to Serengeti park in Tanzania. Hey, wouldn't it be great if Western governments protected animal migration corridors from encroaching business interests?

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