Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued From the Brink by Jane Goodall, Grand Central Publishing, 392 pages
Oh, the audacity of Jane Goodall, insisting on hope in an era of cynicism. What true British pluck to admonish the human race to buck up and get to work fixing the mess we’ve made while there’s time.
As with 2000’s A Reason for Hope, Goodall’s latest book points to places where people are behaving with consideration toward the fate of other species. That earlier book traced Goodall’s own philosophical and spiritual journey as a scientist. This book is a series of vignettes about the heroic efforts of others who have dedicated their lives to the rescue of an animal or plant so desperately close to vanishing that scientists in some cases could find only one or two survivors gone to ground as far from people as possible. Some species were indeed extinct in the wild and were introduced only through captive breeding of the few remaining relics.
Readers hear detailed background on the now-familiar stories of the efforts to save the red wolf, the gray wolf, the California condor, the peregrine falcon, and the black-footed ferret, and we meet the people who led these initiatives— people who refused to accept the inevitability of extinction for species that couldn’t adapt to the ways in which people were reshaping and depleting the environment.
If not for the individuals profiled in Goodall’s book, the rest of the world might never have known about Przewalski’s horse of Mongolia, the American burying beetle, the Sumatran rhino, or India’s pygmy hog. Only nine crested ibises remained on Earth before Chinese scientists intervened to build their numbers to 1,000. Only seven Chatham Island robins remained in 1976 on a midocean rock 500 miles from New Zealand, and only one of the two surviving females could reproduce; today there are 200 Chatham Island robins.
In 1979, biologists risked their lives climbing the steep cliffs of Mauritius, an island nearly 600 miles east of Madagascar, to snatch an egg from the nest of one of the last two breeding pairs of Mauritius kestrels. The kidnapped chick was hand-reared as part of a captive breeding program. By 1994, 333 of these falcons had been returned to the wild.
While thousands of mostly small, local species slip away forever every year in what some conservationists call the “sixth great extinction,” new species are being found deep within the Earth and its oceans and in parts of the planet only recently penetrated by people. As each new species is found, its discoverers are acting to make sure it isn’t lost. Other species thought to be extinct are also being discovered and nurtured. One is the Lord Howe’s Island phasmid or stick insect, whose holdouts were discovered on a single bush on a remote slab of rock called Ball’s Pyramid. Scientists salvaged the species from the eggs of the last living insect captured from the island.
Sure, it’s expensive and heartbreaking and timeconsuming to save disappearing species this way, Goodall admits. But the people she writes about acted on impulses born of urgency, preferring action to hand-wringing or looking back later to ponder what the loss of this bug or that bird might mean to the planet’s natural balance.
Saving animals or plants isn’t enough if the only result is that they live on as museum pieces, Goodall stresses. Animals need a place to live that is truly “wild” and as faithful as possible to the creatures’ habitats before people introduced predators and diseases against which they couldn’t compete. For recovered animals and plants to have a fighting chance requires protected habitats, and that means rescuers must work with— not around— the people who live in or near them. This is the hardest but perhaps most lasting of all conservation work, Goodall writes.
“Demonstrating the value of wild animals to the people in an area where they live is the number one way to help protect those species and their habitat,” writes Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, in one of the sets of field notes he contributes to the book. People are finding that protecting their own fate and that of their children is tied to protecting what remains of biodiversity.
And it doesn’t end there. “In an increasingly modified world, we are going to have to look after and manage the wildlife if we want to keep it,” Goodall writes. “In a world so damaged by our human footprint, it is likely that we will have to remain eternally vigilant to protect threatened and endangered species: they need all the help we can give them.”
Perhaps the book’s most reassuring message is that, while Goodall won’t live forever, she comes from a branch of the human tree that isn’t as endangered as it seems. By nurturing interspecies empathy in youngsters around the world through her Roots & Shoots program and by saluting the Herculean work of others who share her appreciation for all living things, this tireless optimist is ensuring that we, too, don’t lose the wilderness from which our own kind emerged.
— Sandy Nelson