Author of Extreme Conservation, Interviewed

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We recommend this interview in the Atlantic, with the author of the book above, a veteran conservationist reckoning with his career studying animals in the most extreme places on Earth:

In the winter of 2011, Joel Berger and his colleague Marci Johnson happened upon a ghostly Arctic death scene. Body parts and tufts of brown fur poked out of a frozen lagoon. This was all the biologists could find of a herd of 55 musk oxen they had been following.

The cause of mass mortality, they later determined, was an ice tsunami, the result of an unusual storm that slammed seawater and ice into the lagoon where the unfortunate musk oxen stood. Berger is a conservationist who works in some of the most hostile environments in the world, and he studies the enigmatic species, like musk oxen, that live there. His new book, Extreme Conservation, chronicles his career in Alaska, Siberia, Namibia, Tibet, Mongolia, and Bhutan. He is now a biologist at Colorado State University and a senior scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Berger also writes honestly about the trauma he fears he has caused wild animals by chasing, tranquilizing, and radio collaring them—all in the hopes of data to help the species as a whole. “Conservation can be a bloody business,” he says, “and it still is.” A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, follows.

Sarah Zhang: Your book begins with musk oxen. These creatures were once wiped out from Alaska, and there was a project to reintroduce them from Greenland beginning in the 1930s. Tell us about what happened.

Joel Berger: So the way that young musk oxen were captured is that hunters would come in and slaughter every adult [too dangerous for humans to handle] and capture the young babies, which was as traumatizing as if they were baby elephants or baby humans having their parents mowed down.

Adults were slaughtered in Greenland. Babies were captured, put on a ship, floated over to Norway. From Norway, they were put on a ship again over to the East Coast, New York and New Jersey. Put on a train—and bear in mind, this is all in the 1930s—so then, train to Seattle. Put on a boat in Seattle to a place called Seward, Alaska, and put on another train to Fairbanks. Then put on a boat on the Yukon River and floated down to the Bering Sea, then taken on another boat to this island. Then in the 1970s, put on planes again and distributed at three different sites across Alaska…

Read the whole interview here.

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