A field biologist seeks to understand how creatures living in the planet’s extremes are coping with climate change.
Berger (Chair, Wildlife Conservation/Colorado State Univ.; The Better to Eat You With: Fear in the Animal World, 2008, etc.), a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, has made some 33 expeditions, 19 of them to the Arctic (“from Alaska to Russia and Greenland to Svalbard”) and others to Mongolia, the Himalayas, and the Tibetan Plateau. Some of the creatures he has studied are relatively familiar to general readers—e.g., musk oxen, caribou, and bears—but others (chiru, takin, goral, khulan, saiga) are not. His encounters with wildlife take place under the harshest of conditions, and a major part of his story includes the rigors of getting to a site and figuring out how to study an elusive subject in truly brutal surroundings. Readers interested in conservation and climate will not be disappointed, but Berger, who writes with humor and self-awareness, also gives lessons on geography, culture, and politics. He often works with Indigenous people who have their own ideas about the animals and land around them. Climate change is not the only threat he sees; the impacts of a growing human population also concern him. The author seeks to understand the myriad ways in which animals adapt to change, which ones are successful and which are not and why, and what can we do about it. There is a note of guarded optimism in the final chapter, in which Berger cites conservation successes while bemoaning the general apathy. “When there is no room in our hearts for gentleness,” he writes, “and when sympathy disappears from our vocabulary, so does conservation.” One disappointing feature are the photos, which are too small; the text deserves better. For armchair conservationists, an expertly guided trip into remote landscapes that will hopefully spur much-needed action.