If Dorothy knew the challenges that would face this century’s lions and tigers and bears, she would arguably have more to say than, “Oh, my!” Will polar bears survive the next couple of decades? What about African elephants and Siberian tigers? If we take the time to really look, will we find demonstrations of cooperation, generosity, kindness, empathy and fairness — in other words, morality — in animal behavior, and could it be that our relationships with animals hastened our evolution and even aided in the development of language? The authors of the following six books ask and attempt to answer these and numerous other questions about the animal kingdom.
By Kieran Mulvaney
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The studies just keep coming: Polar bears will face a population crisis if Arctic sea ice continues to decline. They’ve become the veritable poster species for the crusade against global warming, and their days appear to be numbered: Current projections expect the summer sea ice in the Arctic to disappear completely, perhaps as early as 2030. With “The Great White Bear,” conservationist and environmental writer Kieran Mulvaney blends popular science and memoir to paint a fascinating portrait of this awesome animal. Readers will learn how the bears evolved, how they mate, give birth, hunt, feed, swim, and carve their dens from snow drifts. In addition to tales from early polar explorers about their bear encounters, explanations about how modern scientists keep tabs on the bears and a short history of the international agreements that strive to protect them, Mulvaney tells his own story: He set out to watch polar bears on the ice along the Alaskan shoreline, but quickly discovered that most of the ice was gone. What followed was a stint in Hudson Bay’s Cape Churchill, where the bears congregate at the beginning of each season. The weaving in of interviews with hundreds of people whose lives intersect with those of these bears — native Inuit hunters, scientists, trappers, tourists — and a close narration of the life of a typical polar bear mother and cubs offers even more interest to this captivating read.
Publisher: Oxford University Press
What happened to the titans of the Ice Age, and can unearthing the clues that led to their demise help in furthering conservation efforts aimed at protecting modern-day giants like polar bears, African elephants and Siberian tigers? In “Once and Future Giants,” science writer Sharon Levy sifts through the clues surrounding global Pleistocene megafauna extinctions. She pieces together prehistoric evidence, ultimately zeroing in on two top possibilities: climate change and hunting by humans. Could it be that rather than the end of the Ice Age and the resulting climate changes, our human predecessors brought on the demise of megafauna such as woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats and mastodons? As Levy writes, “the long fossil record of the Pleistocene shows that mammoths and other giants were resilient, surviving many shifts from intense cold to relative warmth. But that was in a world not yet ruled by people, with open landscapes and plenty of room to move: north when the glaciers retreated, back south when they advanced.” Were these old ecological wounds opened by prehistoric humans, and if so, can they offer 21st-century people insight into how to protect the dwindling numbers of giants still living among us? Levy, who specializes in making natural resource and conservation issues accessible for a broad audience, uses interviews with scientists, the findings of scientific studies, and ongoing debates about conservation to offer a solid introduction to these important questions.
By Dale Peterson
Publisher: Bloomsbury Press
We’ve all heard stories and seen videos like the one about the dog in Chile that tried to rescue an injured canine companion from a busy freeway. Yet, the idea that humans are the only species with a moral sense prevails. Science and natural history writer Dale Peterson, the celebrated biographer of and longtime collaborator with primatologist Jane Goodall, is determined to prove otherwise. His latest book, “The Moral Lives of Animals,” asks us to question our deep-seated and widely accepted ideas about morality and to reexamine what he calls our “Darwinian narcissism.” Using evolutionary theory and examples from scientific studies of a wide variety of animals — from dogs to dolphins, apes to elephants, rats to lizards — Peterson shows how much animal behavior demonstrates powerful impulses toward cooperation, generosity, kindness, empathy and fairness: In other words, morality. This engaging, powerful book shows that the behaviors and values of other species can closely resemble our own, and proves that Homo sapiens is not the only species with a moral sense.
Publisher: William Morrow
Jessica Speart is the author of the popular Rachel Porter mysteries, a series of 10 books that follow the adventures and exploits of the eponymous Fish & Wildlife Service special agent. When the mystery series came to an end, Speart decided to focus her energies on narrative nonfiction. The result: “Winged Obsession,” a book about the black market for rare butterflies. The beautiful, endangered insects are as lucrative as gorillas, pandas and rhinos, and are known for driving their collectors to the brink of mania. Some sell for $39,000 and up, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates the illegal butterfly trade to be worth $200 million a year. As Speart notes on her blog, "For some writers and artists, butterflies become their muse. Lewis Carroll, best known for hanging around with Alice, was a butterfly enthusiast. Another was Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov. Not only did he discover and name dozens of butterfly species; he kept a collection of male butterfly genitalia coated in glycerin, and methodically labeled, in his office." Nabokov referred to his obsession with butterflies as his demon, but Yoshi Kojima, the kingpin of butterfly smugglers, was and arguably still is a veritable fiend for them. “Winged Obsession” tells the gripping, almost unbelievable story of Kojima and of Ed Newcomer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent who worked for years to bring him to justice. This nonfiction book reads like a thriller and exposes the seedy underbelly of illegal butterfly trading.
By Pat Shipman
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Why do Americans spend more on pets despite tough economic times? Why does the earliest prehistoric art almost always depict animals versus other potentially vital symbols such as edible plants, water, tools or weapons, or relationships among humans? Perhaps it’s because of “the animal connection.” Last summer, Penn State University paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman published a journal article that argued “that the interdependency of ancestral humans with other animal species — 'the animal connection' — played a crucial and beneficial role in human evolution over the last 2.6 million years.” Her book on the subject is due this June and expands upon the ancient influence of our deeply rooted connection with animals. In her relatable, conversational style, Shipman offers compelling arguments on how observing and interacting with animals led to major advances in human evolution, such as the making of tools, the development of language, and the domestication of other species. With “The Animal Connection,” Shipman brings focus to the long evolutionary history of the animal-human bond and the suite of adaptive human behaviors linked to it.
By Ian McAllister
Publisher: Greystone Books
Ian McAllister has made a life out of exploring and protecting British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the last places on the planet where wolves live undisturbed. Together with his wife, Karen, he wrote “The Great Bear Rainforest: Canada's Forgotten Coast,” a book that is credited as being the centerpiece for Greenpeace International’s North American forest campaign. He is a founding director of the Canadian-based wildlife conservation group Pacific Wild, and in 2010 he was awarded the NANPA Vision award, given to a photographer in recognition of early career excellence. His latest book, “Following The Last Wild Wolves,” is a follow up to “The Last Wild Wolves,” which was published in 2007. With “Following The Last Wild Wolves,” McAllister brings readers up to date on what has happened to the wolves and their environment since the book first appeared, and chronicles their unique behavior as they fish for salmon in the fall, target seals hauled out on rocks in winter, and give birth to their young in spring. He also describes the work of scientists with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, an organization founded by the McAllisters. Among other things, the results of these studies reveal a genetically distinct population of wolves independent of and separate from all other known wolf populations on the planet.