Book Review: The Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem


Author:  Jon Mooallem
TitleThe Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America
Narrator: Fred Sanders
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2013)
Summary/Review:

Wild Ones is an honest look into the status of endangered species and their relationship to humans in the present day.  Mooallem makes three trips – sometimes bringing his young daughter – to see animals who may be extinct within our lifetimes.  He first visits Churchill, Ontario, the only location where polar bears live adjacent to a human community and their strange celebrity status there.  Next, he visits the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge in the Bay Area of California where Lange’s metalmark butterfly clings to survival in a post-industrial environment.  Finally, he visits the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) breeding centers that attempt repopulate whooping crane populations with minimal interaction with humans (the staff where crane-like disguises) and follows the annual Operation Migration where cranes are lead by light aircraft. At each spot, Mooallem interviews the people trying to rehabilitate the endangered animal populations as well as amateur participants and observers.

Supporting his journalistic endeavors, Mooallem also researches the relationships of humanity to animals in America, focusing on figures ranging from Thomas Jefferson to 19th-century zoologist William Temple Hornaday to 1970s whale advocate Joan McIntyre.  Mooallem frequently recognizes that the idea of wilderness is impossible in a world so widely-populated with humans.  The idea that endangered species can be simply rehabilitated and reintroduced to the wild is being replaced with the reality that they will require perpetual management to survive.  He also notes how people’s appreciation of wild animals is inversely proportional to their populations, and animals once endangered – such as Canada geese and white-tailed deer – are now considered pests.  But Mooallem also sees hope in a world where humans and animals are more interconnected as the ideas of a seperate wilderness are dismissed.

Mooallem writes in a snarky, fatalistic tone that, while understandable, I find off-putting.  Nevertheless, I find this an informative and thought-provoking book.

Recommended booksWhere the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg, Central Park in the dark : more mysteries of urban wildlife by Marie Winn
Rating: ***1/2