Very recent book by a reporter, weaving two storylines- one about a polar bear raised by humans in a zoo (and subsequently moved to two other zoos in America), the other about a small native village in Alaska threatened by climate change as the shorelines collapse from rising temperatures (to put it simply). There’s also a lot of information- historical and current- on global warming issues. I found all three subjects interesting, but the way they fit together was sometimes awkward, the segue between chapters sometimes abrupt. The polar bear was abandoned by her mother at just a few days old, so raised by hand in the zoo- which was extremely difficult- I had no idea why, before. Polar bear milk is very hard to replicate, and the little bear apparently missed some key nutrients early on, she had weak joints and broke some bones later. Also grew up with too much attachment to humans, even though they tried to mitigate that. Eventually she lived in another zoo with another young polar bear, I found all the details of her adjustment intriguing. Sad that she continued to suffer joint issues and emotional problems (requiring the use of psychiatric drugs sometimes) for life. The author kind of questions all the effort done keeping her alive. He talks about some of the useful research done on captive bears, and mentions the breeding programs for endangered species, but also seems to be subtly questioning the idea of wildlife in zoos being “ambassadors” for their species- how much good does that really do?
On the other hand, alternating chapters tell about the struggles of native peoples in Alaska, how their way of life is altered by climate change, their subsistence lifestyle alongside and dependent upon the arctic animals crumbling when the sea ice disappears. The book puts real names and faces to this dissolution- people and vehicles falling through ice that used to weakened where it never had before in human memory. Houses collapsing. Game difficult to find, hunting unsuccessful, people going hungry, having to move from places they’d lived for generations. The effects of alcohol and introduced things from American culture that detract younger people away from their heritage- no longer interested in learning how to track weather patterns, animal movements, learn the skills that made living in the frozen land possible, because the land itself is falling apart. They can see it’s not tenable for the future.
I had to go look at pictures of it all, after I was done reading. Of the small Alaskan village, and videos online of Nora the polar bear. Other Alaskan towns are mentioned in this book, and the stories of a few other polar bears in captivity are shared, as comparison to Nora’s. Lots more info on climate issues than I’ve mentioned here, too. Wildfires, drought, etc. Words urging us all to do something. I do as much as I can but it never feels like enough. Makes me glum.
Borrowed from the public library.