When award-winning British environmental journalist Girling (Greed, 2009, etc.) read an entry in Mammal Species of the World that described “an entire species 'known only from a partially completed specimen in an owl-pellet,’ ” he decided that the discovery of this improbable species, the Somali golden mole, would make a good story. He was right.
Rightfully concerned about predictions that “[a] fifth of all the world's vertebrates…were facing extinction,” the author examined a list of endangered species. He was surprised to learn about a species he had never before heard of, which was first discovered in 1964 by a professor at the University of Florence who made the discovery while on a trip to Somalia, discovering the fragmentary remains of the mole in a disused oven inhabited by owls. Efforts to find indications of other members of the species failed. Girling explains his surprise that this singular, incomplete specimen of a lowly mole deserved a place on an endangered-species list along with the rhinoceros, whose fate is threatened by the illegal trade in horns. He ponders the broader issues of conservation—e.g., whether saving some species should be prioritized and the desire to strike a balance between the needs of impoverished African villagers and preserving the wilderness. “For far too long,” he writes, “the natural and human worlds have been perceived as warring entities whose interests are irreconcilable.” Is it reasonable to worry about the fate of an obscure mole? In the course of writing the book, Girling uncovered a more important truth: It is not the endangerment of particular species that is important, but the whole, “complex webs of inter-dependent relationship that we call ecosystems.” Ultimately, “[i]n its very obscurity the mole stands as a symbol for the whole unsung, unheard-of majority of mammalian life.”
Deep issues concerning our place in nature addressed with grace and enthusiasm.