The stories and the people in “Wild Lives: Leading Conservationists on the Animals and the Planet They Love” by Lori Robinson and Janie Chodosh is a book filled with inspiration. The twenty “conservation pioneers” are all people who have eschewed an easy life in favor of a life filled with sacrifice and occasional hardship — but also immense reward and fulfillment.
The people in the stories aren’t really household names, but after reading about them one will wonder why they aren’t. The first story is about Thomas Lovejoy, the man who coined the term “biological diversity.” He has spent his life traveling to the Amazon to study the plethora of animal life there. He shares that his life was changed by a high school biology teacher. In the book, Lovejoy is quoted as saying,
“Three weeks into that class with an incredible biology teacher, he flipped my switch. His style of teaching was contagious enthusiasm. He taught biology in such a way that before the age of fifteen I understood the outline of life on earth. I’ve never been able to get enough of it ever since.” Lovejoy talks about the fact that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event. “One species per one thousand years was the extinction rate in recent millions of years. Today the rate is at least one thousand time that, if not ten thousand times that. It is the only time a mass extinction has been caused by a single species. Humans.”
Lovejoy’s story was perhaps one of the most persuasive because of the fact that he makes helping the planet personal and achievable.
“Saving wild places, maintaining biological diversity, and ensuring the future of our planet is something that Lovejoy sees as everyone’s responsibility. Speaking up and changing our relationship with nature starts at home. ‘Create habitat. Plant milkweeds for the monarchs,’ says Lovejoy. Backyard habitats can provide some of the connectivity, the re-wilding, and the change to human dominated landscapes, which re-greening the emerald planet requires.”
He believes that people need to establish a connection to the world around us. He advises: Get outside and experience nature, hear it and feel it.
Others in the book include Beverly and Dereck Joubert, a husband and wife couple who have spent their lives following and living with animals in Africa to film them and document their lives in an effort to capture the imagination and emotion of viewers. Dereck states,
“We use filmmaking to influence people against destroying nature. Without conservation, nature fails; without nature, our souls wither, ecosystems fail, culture disappears, and it takes with it our integrity, our self-worth, our common drive to strive for better. If we lose this battle, we don’t just lose animals, we lose our souls.”
Their story documents how they have gone without having children and living with such comforts as running water, fresh food, and communication devices (like telephones).
Meg Lowman talks about trees and gives practical advice. “Consumers are a big reason the tropical forest is cut down.” She cites shade-grown coffee as an example of how to choose products that support conservation. Coffee grown in shade, under larger trees, helps with biodiversity of birds and other creatures. If consumers are knowledgable about the products they are buying, they can support conservation.
There are many others featured, including Dr. Kushal Konwar Sarma, who has spent his life to help elephants in India; Laurie Marker, who who strives to help cheetahs; polar bear researcher Steven Amstrup; dolphin defender Richard O’Barry; Chinese animal activist Grace Ge Gabriel; David Parsons, who is passionate about wolves; and many more.
In this wonderful book filled with real-life stories of heroes, there is one minor problem. For some reason, the editors decided to begin each chapter with a font consisting of all capital letters. Unfortunately, that font’s capital “I” and “L” look the same, making the word “build” almost impossible to read. Because of the font’s poor spacing of letters, the word “sitting” reads as “sitiing.” But that is a very small problem that does not detract from the wonderful purpose and content of the book.
This book review was published in the Huffington Post
These Wildlife Conservationists Haven’t Given Up Hope
A new book profiles people who have devoted their lives to protecting the world’s at-risk animals
Dave Parsons, 69, former Mexican Wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Parsons oversaw the release of 11 Mexican wolves from three different packs into the wild of Arizona’s Apache Forest while working for the USFWS. “I’ve spent 17 years years since my retirement trying to protect the Mexican wolves’ right to exist,” he says. “There are many people who want it to go extinct, but I’m still devoting my life to it.”
This article was published in Outside magazine