Since the day our daughter came home from the hospital, her world has been virtually overrun with wild things: Gorillas, tigers, lions, chimps, bears, giraffes and whales lead an endless parade of anthropomorphized beasts in the form of books or toys, all focused on helping her get to sleep, learn to read, learn share, play, pee, poop, you name it. My unscientific guess would be that 9 out of ten of people shepherding her to adulthood, one way or another, aren’t people at all, but kindly charismatic mega-fauna, lovingly doling out life’s big lessons. The irony of course, is that nearly all of the cuddly critters populating the pages and injection molded toys of her world are scarce-to-long-gone in reality. And it’s precisely this irony that compelled journalist-and anxious father-Jon Mooallem, to take this brilliant, sometimes disheartening journey into the world of animal conservation. “Wild Ones” is the story of precisely what lengths some people will go to in their attempts to the save the last of God’s great creatures.
Focusing almost randomly on Polar bears, a small blue butterfly, and Whooping Cranes, Mooallem, plunges us into the rough and tumble, idiosyncratic and contentious world of animal conservation. What he reveals is a free-for-all of passionate amateurs and slick professionals alike, working in largely unnoticed, under-appreciated but often heroic bids to stem, if only in some small way, what is the 6th greatest extinction of earth’s history. And, if he can show his 3 year old daughter an actual bear or a rare bird in the process, all the better.
If you’re like me, you assume the conservation movement is nothing if not focused and aligned against the vast, ignorant public (aka: me), and the tidal forces wreaking havoc on their animal of choice. But in Moallem’s book, the soldiers on the front lines of animal conservation are often without generals, at each other’s throats, and always lacking ammo. Most are there because they give a rat’s ass, and many have given up just about everything else in order to help, even if it means painstakingly counting small blue butterfly in a diminishing 68 acre reserve, moving tiny fish in a remote pond by hand, or attempting to teach a bird to migrate across a country, one glacial mile at a time.
The odds are less than bad, and the task before anyone in animal conservation is truly Quixotic. And no, Mooallem doesn’t shy from the question, “Just how did we let it get this bad”, but this story of but a few of the many people who thrown-down in the face of staggering odds hits its mark. Sure, you may find yourself rolling your eyes – as I did- when a few Churchill Canada locals dispute climate change while Polar bears starve to death before their eyes, or, perhaps get a chuckle at the extremity of those who don white sheets and bird puppets to keep a large, rare bird from imprinting on people, but these crazy bastards are out there every day, fighting to keep these embattled beasts in the “wild” (wherever that may be). There will be no magical thinking coming from Mooallem, or Polly-Anna endings in these stories, but there is redemption and inspiration in “Wild Ones”.