WATCHING, FROM THE EDGE OF EXTINCTION by Beverly Peterson Stearns

WATCHING, FROM THE EDGE OF EXTINCTION

KIRKUS REVIEW

Intelligently affecting stories of animals reduced to rarity, what leads to their predicament, and the people and ideas working to ward off extinction. Considering the current wave of extinction—roughly estimated at two species per day—journalist Beverly Stearns and her husband Stephen (Zoology/Univ. of Basel, Switzerland) ask how much of it is natural, how much attributable to poaching, indiscriminate harvesting, disease, predators, habitat loss, and competition with exotics. What is the significance of a creature’s disappearance? The Stearnses have taken a small but diverse sample to elucidate the many roads to extinction; in their ten cautionary tales, with protagonists ranging from snails to dodos to wild dogs, the deleterious role of humans is always in evidence. Some episodes show punctuated equilibrium meeting a dead end, but for the most part we see people with principles, who think about evolutionary potential and the effect of species loss on our values, battling the greedy, corrupt, and hypocritical, who think about personal power, money, and ego display. The more pungent stories include the tale of a landowner fighting to protect the Hawaiian crow (‘alala) after incompetent researchers from the National Audubon Society bungle their fieldwork—though the details of how the clever crow got into such a fix remain unclear. Other intriguing tales show the English large blue butterfly losing its improbable adoptive parents (red ants) through human ignorance and then being reintroduced, trailing in its wake pale dog-violets and pearl-bordered fritillaries. The saga of the Barton Springs salamander proves to be a Texas tale of ordinary folk, town meetings, and a Boy Scout turned environmental lawyer going to bat against a multinational corporation with politicians in its pocket and billions to throw about, to protect a unique pale pink salamander. This survey of representative extinction dramas makes one thing clear: The fate of endangered species is not sealed. Though they try hard for journalistic objectivity, it’s clear where the authors” sympathies lie as they chart different courses that can reduce the human contribution to extinction.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-300-07606-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1999




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