W.W. Norton & Co., $30
Bears have lengthy been thought of household. “Tales of a familial bear exist in nearly each human tradition that shares territory with the animal,” writes journalist Gloria Dickie in her new ebook, Eight Bears.
The Yakut folks of jap Siberia name brown bears “grandfather” and “uncle.” Shepherds within the French Pyrenees name the brown bear la va-nu-pieds, the “barefooted one,” a reference to its humanlike footprints. In Peru, the Ukuku is an Andes-traipsing man-bear hybrid in Quechua lore that steals away younger ladies.
The traditional and recurrent historical past of people recognizing bears as both non secular or organic brethren units the tone for the ebook, which supplies wealthy classes for understanding our ursine neighbors and the way their lives have intertwined with our personal.
That bears have had such a cultural grip on our species is spectacular given their dearth of worldwide range. As you might need guessed, there are solely eight bear species: brown, black, solar, moon, polar, spectacled, sloth and big panda. Dickie explores every in vivid element, touring throughout three continents to among the locations the place they amble.
The settings Dickie presents — some distant, some city — are marvelously rendered. She transports readers to the perilously steep ridgelines of the Andes, perpetually misty and buzzing with hummingbirds, and to Churchill, Canada, a subarctic city on an icy seashore sitting sq. within the path of migrating polar bears (SN: 11/1/22). Via these travels, Dickie weaves in every species’s distinctive tales — of decline, restoration and an unsure future — and the way people have roped their very own needs and ambitions to the bears, for higher or worse.
Dickie expertly peppers her “ursine odyssey” with dry humor, augmenting the expertise of encountering the bears, which oscillates from dopey to actually harmful. One second that stands out is when Dickie is making ready to go to the forest houses of Indian sloth bears and describes digesting jarringly matter-of-fact tales and pictures of the aftereffects of maulings. However to not fear, an area biologist assures her “in a manner that was meant to be comforting,” she’s going to see extra accidents like this the place she is about to journey.
Such participating insights into Dickie’s experiences elevate Eight Bears effectively above a patchwork of bear information.
Although, there are information aplenty. Dickie supplies ample context on every species’s biology, ecology and historic (and typically prehistorical) relationship with people. The strong accounting of a lot about these animals is fascinating, although some forays into the evolutionary historical past of every department of the bear household tree and the taxonomic id of Paddington Bear and Baloo from The Jungle Guide can really feel meandering (SN: 4/3/16). Nonetheless, Dickie excels in crafting a charming and punctiliously thought of mosaic of tales that may engross any reader fascinated with wildlife and wilderness.
One major theme in Eight Bears is that many species inhabit woefully shrinking pure areas. Within the Andes, spectacled bears’ cloud forests danger ascending upslope into oblivion on account of a warming local weather. Polar bears are caught between quickly dwindling sea ice and a genetic tidal wave from hybridizing with brown bears which have began wandering poleward (SN: 9/3/20). Sloth bears are squeezed into smaller and smaller pockets of forest as human populations develop, resulting in violent, tragic conflicts with folks.
These eight bear species, Dickie reveals, handle to seize the total vary of individuals’s attitudes towards wilderness, from awe to exploitation, neglect to reverence. She illuminates radically assorted penalties of people putting political, social or financial worth on bears. As an example, circumstances aligned for large pandas to be helpful in “panda diplomacy” as a political bargaining chip for China, thus feeding a cultural standing and conservation funding the seven different bear species lack. Dickie’s trustworthy and bleak accounts of moon and solar bears languishing on farms in Vietnam that acquire bear bile to deal with irritation and excessive ldl cholesterol current a far darker actuality for some species.
There are relative success tales during which bears have bounced again into abundance, however that may current ongoing rigidity. In the US, people and black bears navigate coexistence on the wildland-urban interface (and nationwide park trash cans). On the jap flanks of the Rockies, brown bears lollop into territories gone bearless for many years on account of intentional extermination, now saturated with farms and other people.
In the long run, Dickie warns that solely three species — black, brown and panda bears — appear well-positioned to persist within the wild sooner or later. Dropping animals whose lives have so intently paralleled our personal can be like dropping household, she writes. “And in some methods, we might lose part of our personal wildness. With out bears, the woods, and our tales, can be empty.”
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