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Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Lookingat Animals in America
 
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Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Lookingat Animals in America [Format Kindle]

Jon Mooallem

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Extrait

During the Cold War, a joint U.S.-Canadian military installation was built outside the tiny northern town of Churchill, Manitoba, at the western edge of Hudson Bay. Those stationed at Fort Churchill had several jobs to do, like be ready to repulse the Soviets if they invaded over the North Pole and figure out how to lob nuclear warheads at Moscow through the Aurora Borealis, which was proving, mysteriously, to muck up the guidance systems on their rockets. A lot of the soldiers’ time was also spent dealing with a nuisance: hundreds of polar bears that ambled across the tundra there every fall.

In November 1958, for example, one ate a pair of boots at the firing range. Another smashed a building’s window, poked his head in, and had to be blasted with a fire extinguisher. At least twenty polar bears were loitering near the mess hall and the dump, and, late one Sunday night, three turned up at the central commissary. Soldiers in station wagons drove them back into the wilderness. One report noted, “The most effective, anti-dawdling weapon has been the small helicopter.” Even so, occasionally the bears would rear up on their hind legs and try to tussle with the armored flying machines. One helicopter pilot described how unsettling it was to make a low pass and find “some six feet of indignant polar bear throwing haymakers” with paws the size of dinner plates. After a while, military contractors limited the amount of work done outside at night; the higher-ups decided it would just be easier to stay out of the polar bears’ way. “So this is civilization,” began one newspaper article about military wives at Fort Churchill.

By the time I arrived, one November a half-century later, the military was gone. The fort had been dismantled and carted off, though two massive, ruined radar domes still sat in the distance like some post-apocalyptic Epcot attraction. A dozen specially built vehicles called Tundra Buggies crawled along the network of dirt roads the military had built and abandoned. Each was stuffed with tourists, many of whom had paid several thousand dollars a head to fly to Churchill, now billing itself as “The Polar Bear Capital of the World.” They were mostly older vacationers, taken out to the tundra every day to get a glimpse of the animals, then deposited back in town to prowl the gift shops along Churchill’s main road, buying polar bear caps and snow hats, polar bear T-shirts, polar bear aprons, polar bear Christmas ornaments, polar bear magnets, polar bear boxer shorts, polar bear light-switch plates, polar bear wind chimes, polar bear baby bibs, and pajamas that say “Bearly Awake.”

A Tundra Buggy, if it resembles anything at all, resembles a double-wide school bus propped up on monster-truck tires. Three had pulled off the road to watch a lone polar bear splayed flat at the rim of a frozen pond, asleep in the willows. I was behind them in a scaled-down vehicle known as Buggy One, one of the storied, original rigs of the fleet. Buggy One is now operated by a conservation group, Polar Bears International. One of the group’s videographers was shooting footage of the bear through an open window while the other staff on board tried to sit perfectly still so as not to rattle his tripod. The cameraman had been filming the bear for a long time, in Super HD, hoping it would stand up or do something alluring. Up ahead, tourists filed onto the rear decks of their buggies, training their Telephoto lenses and little point-and-shoots at the animal. It lifted its head once or twice, but that was it. After a couple of minutes, I noticed that the tourists had turned ninety degrees and were photographing us, aboard Buggy One, instead.

It was then that Martha Stewart’s helicopter came into view. Everyone turned to watch it as it passed, flying low and very far ahead. Two hundred years ago, Arctic explorers described polar bears leaping out of the water and into boats, trying to “resolutely seize and devour” whichever dog or human being was sitting closest to their jaws, unprovoked and absolutely undeterred even if you tried to set the bear on fire. Now Martha Stewart had come to Churchill to shoot a special segment about the bears for her daytime television show on the Hallmark Channel.

Polar Bears International had been working in a loose partnership with Martha Stewart for many months in advance to handle logistics for her shoot. The group was trying to ensure that Martha told the right story about the animals. It isn’t enough anymore to gush about how magnificent or cute polar bears are, as the many travel writers and television personalities that came to Churchill over the years had tended to. The stakes were too high now—too urgent. Climate change had put the bear in severe jeopardy. According to a 2007 study by U.S. government scientists, two-thirds of the world’s polar bears are likely to be gone by the middle of this century. And, of course, that’s only one of many dispiriting prognoses trickling into the news these days. Another study predicts that climate change may wipe out one of every ten plant and animal species on the planet during that same time. Another claims seven of every ten could be gone. Tropical birds, butterflies, flying squirrels, coral reefs, koalas—the new reality will rip away at all of them, and more. The projections range from bona fide tragedies to more niggling but genuinely disruptive bummers: tens of millions of people in Bangladesh are likely to be displaced by sea-level rise and flooding; the Forest Service warns of maple syrup shortages in America.

The polar bear, in other words, is an early indicator of all this other turmoil coming our way. It is, as everyone on Buggy One kept telling me, a “canary in the coal mine”—that was the phrase they used, always, with unrelenting discipline. The animal had become a symbol for some otherwise inexpressible pang—of guilt, of panic—that can burble into the back of your mind, or the pit of your stomach, when you think about the future of life on Earth. But, Polar Bears International was arguing, it could also be a mascot—a rallying point. By now, bears are all but guaranteed to disappear from a lot of their range. But the science suggests that there’s still time to slow climate change down and, in the long term, keep the species—and many others along with it—from vanishing entirely.

Practically speaking, this leaves conservationists like Polar Bears International in a unique and sometimes disorienting position. Unlike with other species, the central threat to polar bears isn’t something that can be tackled or solved on the ground, out in the immediate ecosystem. The only meaningful way to save the polar bear now is to influence the energy policies and behavior of people who live thousands of miles away—which means, in part, influencing influential media personalities like Martha Stewart. At some point, polar bear conservation stopped being solely the work of scientists and became the work of lawyers, lobbyists, and celebrities as well. The bear is dependent on the stories we tell about it.

After spending the fall in Churchill, Polar Bears International’s president, Robert Buchanan, would head back home to the United States and start traveling from city to city, hosting talks by scientists and zookeepers, trying to use the appeal of this one charismatic animal to inspire people to reduce their own carbon footprints, however slightly—to drive less, to buy recycled goods. In Kansas City, PBI had partnered with the hardware chain Lowe’s to get inner-city kids to weatherize their neighbors’ homes, saving energy for heating and cooling. In suburban Connecticut, they’d cosponsored “Polar Bear Empathy Day,” at which members of the local Polar Bear Club, in a reversal of their traditional cold-water swims, put on heavy parkas and stood on a scorching beach in July to show solidarity with the bears in an overheating Arctic. All together, Robert regarded these strategies and stunts as a kind of psychological guerrilla warfare. “Polar bears are in serious friggin’ trouble,” he told me that morning on Buggy One. “But until you change the consumer’s attitude, you’re not going to change the policy or the political will.” By “consumer,” he presumably meant “citizen.”

It was a marketing gambit, after all. And Robert, a big man who talks in a languorous growl, felt very comfortable relating to it in those terms. This was his retirement. In his thirty-five-year career, he’d risen to marketing director at Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, overseeing beverage and alcohol brands during the heyday of the corporation, when it owned Universal Studios and a large share of the music industry and was producing flashy wine-cooler commercials starring a young Bruce Willis. Robert handled cognacs and whiskey and Tropicana orange juice. “I take products to market,” he said. “I’m a marketer.” Now he’d put himself on the polar bear account.

Robert was literally trying to control the image of the polar bear in Churchill before that image was broadcast around the world. Churchill turns out to be the best, most convenient place in the world to see or film polar bears in the wild. (When you see a wild polar bear on TV or the Internet, the chances are good that you’re looking at a Churchill bear.) Because Polar Bears International operates in close partnership with a tour company in Churchill that owns the majority of the permits and vehicles needed to access the animals on the tundra, the group has been able to intercept most of the major media that come through town. They install biologists and climatologists on the reporters’ buggies like scientific press agents, trying to make sure an accurate narrative comes across, and they provide B-roll footage of bea...

Revue de presse

***A New York Times Notable Book of 2013***

“[An] ambitious and fascinating first book… [Mooallem] seamlessly blends reportage from the front lines of wildlife conservation with a lively cultural history of animals in America, telling stories of people past and present whose concern for animals makes them act in ways that are sometimes unexpected, sometimes heroic, and occasionally absurd.” New York Times Book Review

A thoughtful parable of Americans’ complicated relations with conservationists and the wildlife they protect.”The New Yorker

Intelligent and highly nuanced… This book may bring tears to your eyes. If so, they will be drawn out by the tragedy of what we have done and the all-too-often pathetic efforts to turn back the clock. But read through the tears, and you will find yourself more informed, more prepared to make a difference. Mooallem has done those of us who care deeply about nature and wildlife a favor, leaving us justifiably off balance but putting us in a better position to move beyond hubris to pragmatic solutions.” --San Francisco Chronicle

“An engaging nature/environment book that goes beyond simple-minded sloganeering.” – Kirkus

 “Wild Ones heightens one’s awareness of the precipitous position of so many of our animal species, but it’s also filled with curiosity and hope. The men and women that Mooallem tails are dreamers, but you wind up rooting for them to keep on dreaming.” – Smithsonian

There is, in short, ridiculously lots to love about Jon Mooallem’s Wild Ones—starting with its thoughtful and troubling observation that our increasingly extravagant effort at species conservation is a corollary to, as much as a solution for, our habit of rendering wild animals extinct.” – New York Magazine

“Mooallem argues conservation is and always has been about fulfilling people’s need for nostalgic wildness, however contrived and fictitious it may be. Every generation strives to return the Earth to some idealized former state. Although his journey is sobering, Mooallem’s conclusion is upbeat: Even small conservation victories matter.” – Discover

“Mooallem manages to pinpoint something peculiar yet poignant about being human, and as a result, reading his pieces often feels like being tricked by an approachable wink masking a sharp jab to the gut... Be prepared to be surprise-gutted.” East Bay Express
 
“A clear-eyed look at our coy relationship with endangered animals.” Nature

“If I could write this review entirely in smiley faces and majestic animal emojis, I would: Wild Ones is easily one of the best books I've come across this year. It's more readable than most novels, stuffed with more fascinating, offbeat trivia than the last three issues of The New Yorker combined….It's incredibly well-researched, relevant, challenging stuff.” Portland Mercury

“‘If we choose to help [polar bears] survive,’ Mooallem writes, ‘it will require a kind of narrow, hands-on management—like getting out there and feeding them.’ Among a lot of environmentalists, those are fighting words. All respect to Mooallem for having the guts to say them.” Outside Magazine

This book is dense with both thought and fact… It is written with a vernacularly light touch, shot through with compassion and wit, not to mention open amazement, the only apt response to the story of our monumental hubris.” – The Daily Beast

“Mooallem argues that by focusing on the animals themselves, we are overlooking the point of the Endangered Species Act, which stressed the paramount importance of ecosystems—a far more difficult thing to save than a species. He strives for the big picture here and gently guides readers through what ultimately becomes a poignant tribute to all who try to make the world a better place. This is a wise approach to a troubling subject, and Mooallem’s words do give us something to hold on to as we continue to struggle with what it means to save the planet.” – Booklist

"It is impossible to express, within the tiny game-park confines of a back cover, how amazing I find this book. I love it line by perfect, carefully crafted line, and I love it for the freshness and intelligent humanity of its ideas. As literary nonfiction, as essay, as reportage, Wild Ones is, to my mind, about as good as writing gets."
—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Gulp

"I love Jon Mooallem and I love animals, but this book is even better than the sum of its parts. Mooallem makes a persuasive case that wild animals are America's cultural heritage—our Sistine Chapel and our Great Books—and the story he tells is an archetypal American one. Even as the animals are being destroyed by unthinking, unconscious corporate forces, they are also being rescued through the tremendous energy and ingenuity of individuals, men and women who wear whooping-crane costumes, cohabitate with dolphins, and encourage condors to ejaculate on their heads. Wild Ones made me proud to be American."
—Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed

"Part harrowing arctic adventure, part crazy airborne travelogue, and often funny family trek, Wild Ones shows us that while saving species might be of debatable value to some, it is maybe in our genes, and definitely in our hearts. Mooallem's analysis of our various environmental movements has the breadth and penetrating clarity of Michael Pollan, but more importantly he makes us wonder even more about a world that is in desperate need of more wonder."
—Robert Sullivan, author of Rats and My American Revolution

"During the course of his three expeditions, Jon Mooallem collects in the specimen jars of his elegant paragraphs enough ironies, curiosities, insights, and revelations—enough life, wild and otherwise—to stock a mind-altering museum, one unlike any other, in which Martha Stewart has wandered into the polar bear exhibit, and the Hall of North American Animals turns out also to be a hall of mirrors. With Mooallem as your nature guide, you won't look at wild animals—or at Homo americanus—quite the same way again."
—Donovan Hohn, author of Moby-Duck

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Amazon.com: 4.7 étoiles sur 5  66 commentaires
20 internautes sur 23 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Well-written, engaging, and thought-provoking 17 avril 2013
Par R. Schwenk - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
As suggested by the subtitle, this book looks at the people who devote themselves to the conservation of endangered species in the United States and Canada. Mooallem has spent huge amounts of time with these conservationists, interviewing them, following them, even helping out as a volunteer. We get to learn a lot about some endangered species, what it takes to keep them from going extinct, and how dedicated the people are who work to save them.

The book is exceptionally well-written. Mooallem tells many compelling stories, introduces us to a string of memorable characters, past and present, and meditates eloquently on the philosophy of conservation and our relationship with nature. He was motivated to explore this topic when he observed that Isla, his young daughter, is surrounded by pictures, books, and toys depicting wild animals, some of whom will undoubtedly go extinct during her lifetime. This proves to be a rich vein for philosophical meditation as he ponders what kind of world we are leaving for our children and how will they feel about our negligence.

Mooallem explores the history of conservation from the time when all wild animals were killed for sport and economic reasons through the passage of the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s and on to the present. The idea that a species could go extinct was never considered by the early European settlers of the New World. The abundance of wildlife and the vast domain of wilderness conspired with the notion that God would never allow a species to disappear. The extinction of the passenger pigeon and the near extinction of the bison became a sort of wake-up call to human empathy for wild things. Ironically, long before the Europeans arrived, North America had suffered calamitous extinctions (see the The Ghosts Of Evolution Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, And Other Ecological Anachronisms) possibly caused by the first arrival of humans.

The author introduces us (sympathetically) to the many obsessed characters working to preserve such varied creatures as polar bears, butterflies, and whooping cranes. We get to see just how hard they work, how much they have to struggle to save what they can, and how often people generously assist them. The sad story is that the struggle seems so futile. How much human intervention into the lives of these animals can we perform and still consider the creatures wild? Most veteran conservationists end up feeling like it's all been a waste of time.

There is one problem with the book: Readers may lose hope that conserving species is worthwhile. Strangely, this demoralizing "truth" may be crucial to convincing people that humanity's footprint is far too large. If polar bears cause us to get serious about global warming, then they may turn out to be the real conservationists.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Amazing 2 juillet 2013
Par DM - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Let me skip to the punchline: This book is brilliant. Such an entertaining read. So smart, so funny. It's really profound, too, but that part of it sneaks up on you, because you're having such a good time traveling around the country with Mooallem, meeting all these vivid characters, listening to the author tell crazy true stories from our history. It's a perfect weekend or vacation read.
5 internautes sur 5 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 I bought this book. Read it. Then I bought two more for friends. You should too. 13 août 2013
Par David Klatt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Here's a note I just wrote to my brother to get him to buy this book:

This guy, Jon Mooallem, takes a look at three animals and their habitats -- the polar bear, the Lange's metalmark butterfly and the whooping crane -- and tells the stories of the people who live near them and work to preserve them, which brings him to bigger questions, including why we humans work our asses off (or not) to preserve some animals and not others.

This book is full of stories about the early days of Americans interacting with nature, stories we tell ourselves about the natural world, and one in particular that reveals just how far out of his way Thomas Jefferson once went to show a French official just how much bigger the moose are over in America.

If you like looking at animals (cool), or watching people look at them (creepy, but OK), take a look at this book.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Fantastic read! 17 mai 2013
Par Brett Farrell - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Commentaire client Vine pour produit gratuit (De quoi s'agit-il?)
Sometimes these "people looking at people who..." books can be very dull and full of far to many of the authors opinions and biases but this book manages to look fairly and generally subjectively at all parties concerned and with a style that makes putting this book down very dificult to do. The authors journeys are riveting and he always takes you to the begining of each creatures conservational origins (when people first started to care about them). There is a great amount of detail through out so you don't feel left out of reach of any of what the author is talking about but it all also explained in laymens terms so you are never confused. This was a wonderful book and I will keep it in my library for ever.
3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 This millenium's Silent Spring 4 décembre 2013
Par M. Lunde - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
“I think I could turn and live with the animals, they are so placid and self contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied-not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.”

Walt Whitman

Thoroughly enjoyed everything about this book. From the furry creatures to the prickly conservationists who Mr. Mooallem interviewed.
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