Review of Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem

“Zoom out and what you see is one species–us–struggling to keep all others in their appropriate places, or at the least the places we’ve decided they ought to stay. In some areas, we want cows but no bison, or mule deer but not coyotes, or cars but not elk. Or bighorn sheep but not aoudad [a non-native species] sheep. Or else we’d like wolves and cows in the same place. Or natural gas tankers swimming harmoniously with whales. We are everywhere in the wilderness with white gloves on, directing traffic.” ~Mooallem, 252-253, Wild Ones

I literally don’t know where to start with this one, other than to say this made me actually start taking notes while I was reading, which is something I have always reminded myself to do half-heartedly. I was scribbling frantically and trying to resist the urge to block-quote entire sections in my scrawl.

Read it.

Then, re-read it.

Mooallem argues convincingly in this book that a species has a cultural carrying capacity. Population numbers depend on our willingness to tolerate a species or help its survival. He presents three case studies–a bear, a butterfly, and a bird–with an aside on whales thrown in.

“But the possibility that a species could be annihilated, totally, everywhere, was literally inconceivable:  it occurred to almost no one [in colonial times].” (pg. 44) A few centuries later, the possibility we are facing is that scores of species will be extinct in the geologic blink of an eye.

Our attitude now seems almost the opposite to the colonial attitude; with the theory of evolution, it seems that we expect animals to adapt. If they don’t, it’s that they weren’t fit enough to survive. It provides convenient cover for climate change deniers and a soft landing for those who are aware of human impact on the environment but keep rolling along. This book has made me really think about my wildlife viewing tendencies, my attitudes towards conservation, and my anthropomorphizing. More later as I keep grappling with these ideas.

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