The news about biodiversity isn't good: A sixth extinction seems imminent and, unlike the previous five, it is man-made. Through pollution, overpopulation, unsustainable lifestyles, desperate poverty, shrinking water supplies, corporate greed, climate change and the introduction of alien species, human beings have savaged the global landscape. Annually, tens of thousands of species die out. Others survive only in zoos.
Yet Jane Goodall, primatologist and ethologist, refuses to despair, and Hope for Animals and their World: How Endangered Species are Being Rescued from the Brink is her warrior cry.
What will save the situation and heal Earth's scars? Four things, Goodall writes: "Our quite extraordinary intellect, the resilience of nature, the energy and commitment of informed young people who are empowered to act, and the indomitable human spirit." And so this book is about how individuals obsessed with saving a single species - a primate, a bird, a fish, an insect, a plant - manage, with inspiration and improvisation, guts and gall - to do the just-about-impossible.
Hope for Animals soars above even the most interesting of Goodall's previous books because this time, she is writing for the life of the planet, and gambling that she will - because she must - galvanize a critical mass of sympathizers and converts to take action rather than merely wring their hands.
Hope for Animals is gorgeously illustrated and dense with compelling stories organized into six thematic parts. The first, Lost in the Wild, is a harrowing description of how "passionate biologists" resorted to captive breeding schemes that averted the extinction of six mammal and bird species. When the survivors reproduced, they were returned to the wild. Though captive breeding is highly controversial, Goodall dismisses arguments against it because the plight of so many species is so precarious.
In How Bureaucratic Obstinacy Nearly Led to the Extinction of the Ferrets, Goodall describes the grim battle between biologists and the Wyoming Fish & Game Department's rigid policies that accommodated their cage-maker's one cage a day output by limiting trapping to one black-footed ferret a night - and refusing offers to bring in a speedier cage-maker.
Next came bitter conflict over hard or soft release. Hard release puts captives into the unknown and dangerous wild without training; soft release often includes some feeding and safety measures and, Goodall writes, has "proved conclusively [to lead]to much better short-term survival rates … more individuals live to breed the following season as well."
Hope for Animals is a tribute to the thousands of men and women who dedicate themselves to rescuing endangered species
The campaign to save the California condor involved the related issue of protection versus intervention. Protectionists were committed to the ideal of trying to protect the condor in the wild and, if that failed, to allow them to die off, with dignity, in their natural habitat. Goodall's interventionist biologists, on the other hand, opted for capture and breeding.
And, with so few condors remaining, they could make no mistakes. After discovering that California condors require discipline from an adult male bird, the biologists used a condor puppet disguise to tend and feed the chicks, and kept a real adult condor in the chicks' sight. Months later, they paired the maturing chicks with a condor mentor who taught them survival skills.
To increase the survival rate of Australia's mala or Rufous Hare-Wallaby, biologists resorted to the unorthodox method of "stealing" infants or joeys from their mother's pouches to be raised by zoo-dwelling, non-endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies. Losing her joey activated the mala mother's internally stored fertilized egg, which matured into another joey.
The war against species extinction also faces a plethora of man-made enemies: cars, hostile farmers, vanishing habitat, fires, water shortages, DDT and toxic chemicals such as diclofenac, widely available in South Asia. Condor parents, for example, unwittingly sickened their chicks by offering them what they mistook for bone fragments: bottle caps, hard plastic, bits of metal and glass. The joyous Kite Festival popularized in Khaled Hoseini's The Kite Runner injures and kills thousands of birds after they fly into kite strings coated with powdered glass intended to slice the strings of competitors' kites.
Species Saved at the Last Hour from becoming extinct in the wild include the Golden Lion Tamarin, tiny and adorable, captured en masse for zoos and as pets. Rescued from the brink, Tamarins were soft released, fed and sheltered until they could survive on their own in the wild. To prevent inbreeding, devoted Brazilians are creating forest corridors so the Tamarins can move around freely.
Animals rescued from the brink often need extraordinary kinds of care. Captive peregrine falcons (and other birds) may bond to their human parents and refuse to mate with other falcons. One curious photograph in this lavishly illustrated book shows a propagation biologist wearing a "copulation hat" that, after a human stimulates courtship behaviour, serves as a ledge for copulation and the subsequent successful insemination of female birds.
Hope for the Animals makes it clear that education is crucial to saving many species. Without understanding their function in nature, who would rush to save the American crocodile or the burying beetle? Yet the crocodile kills and thereby controls the growth of invasive species such as green iguanas and pythons that frightened owners release into the wild as their exotic "pets" grow into dangerous adults. The American burying beetle is one of nature's most efficient recyclers, feeding on carrion, returning nutrients to the earth, stimulating the growth of plants.
The Heroic Struggle to Save Our Island Birds underscores the tragic incompatibility of native birds and invasive foreign species like cats, rats, mice, pigs, foxes and plants. "The only crime of these so-called pest species is that they have been - just like Homo sapiens - too successful," Goodall writes. Yet to preserve native birds and other species, all the intruders must be killed. Goodall grieves for the slaughtered innocents, but she is also "filled with admiration for the persistence of those who work so hard to remove them from the islands."
Hope for Animals is a tribute to the thousands of men and women who dedicate themselves to rescuing endangered species and keeping them safe, which can mean anything from teaching them how to eat bugs or how to fly to how to mate. Through Goodall, these people become the voice of the voiceless and the Keepers of the Planet.
But millions of us inhabit that planet, and Goodall urges us to do anything and everything we can to save it. Her extensive Appendix, What You Can Do, includes pages of programs and websites that guide readers to Take Action and Meet the Species. Young people, crucial to success, can participate in Goodall's Roots & Shoots humanitarian and environmental programs.
Hope for Animals is intensely moving and Goodall's measured prose conveys urgency and crisis without panic. But there is no mistaking the bleak outlook if her call to arms falls short. The book's dedication says it best: "To the memory of Martha, the last passenger pigeon - and to the last Miss Waldron's colobus and the last Yangtze River dolphin. As we think of their lonely end, may be inspired to work harder to prevent others suffering a similar fate."
Elizabeth Abbott is a writer and a research associate at the University of Toronto's Trinity College. She is a winner of a National Magazine Award for environmental writing and her book Sugar: A Bittersweet History was nominated for the (2009) Charles Taylor Prize. Her next book, A History of Marriage, will be published in January.