Extreme Conservation: Life at the Edges of the World

Joel Berger. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-226-36626-5
In language by turns lyrical, despairing, and hilariously funny, conservation biologist Berger relates stories from a life spent studying little-known animals. The touchstone of his work is the musk ox, “an Arctic apparition, a Pleistocene remnant,” which as a species “define these turbulent lands, and an uncertain future” threatened by climate change. Berger goes to extreme lengths to research the musk ox and other animals living in inhospitable locales in Bhutan, Mongolia, Russia, and the U.S. He is perpetually cold; equipment freezes, as does food. Tasked with reaching up the anus of a musk ox to retrieve scat at the source, he counts on the warmth to revive his numbed fingers. The people he finds, including Inuit hunters and Wyoming cattlemen, are often committed to saving the biological diversity around them, heartening Berger, who is adamant that, without human commitment, the species he studies won’t survive. The narrative is sprinkled with quotes from early Arctic explorers and anecdotes from other scientists, with Berger’s own wry humor added to the mixture. His experiences while wearing a bear suit to get closer to the musk ox, to pick one particularly delightful example, are pure slapstick. Informative and impassioned, this will be enjoyed by adventurers and environmentalists alike. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2018
Release date: 08/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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