I don’t think I knew there are grizzly bears that live in the harsh, barren desert. There’s not many of them- thirty or forty it seems. The author, a renowed biologist, traveled to the Gobi region in Mongolia multiple times as part of a team studying the population of golden desert bears. Tracking them with difficulty, supplementing their food supply (a difficult adjustment for a scientist who his whole life had followed and urged the rule don’t feed the bears! but he explains why in this case it was okay and even essential), setting live-capture traps to take vital signs. Putting up barbed wire strands in key areas to snag hair for DNA samples. Meeting with local officials to help form laws and regulations protecting the bears and other animals, and with schoolchildren to teach, encouraging appreciation of their wildlife. Lots about the landscape of the desert, the vast sense of place, the cheerful optimism of the people around him, the culture. Made me remember other books I’ve read that take place in Mongolia and surrounding regions. I wish there’d been more about the bears than just glimpses, but the wealth of information they could gather from hair samples, dissecting scat, tracking collars and motion-activated cameras (often destroyed by the startled bears) was impressive and valuable. It’s nice to see this book end on an upnote, with the population remaining steady perhaps even increasing a bit, protections and scope of the study widening, and more people caring about the bears.
When the author mentioned his work on mountain goats, I thought, I have to read that book! and guess what I recalled that I did- several times actually- and it’s still among my very favorites – A Beast the Color of Winter. (I think I like it even better than this one, because it has more detail about the animals’ daily lives and habits, since he could habituate them to his presence and get very close). Chadwick is a great writer, the narrative moves along with vivid and definite prose, clear descriptions of the landscape and the work, warm and thoughtful portraits of his fellow men, and also a good dash of humor throughout. Here’s just a sample sentence: the landscape unfolding before us felt so elemental and ancient that the human habit of parsing time into minutes and then fussing over their loss had begun to seem like a mental disorder.
Another bit I particularly like: In science, being confused is an opportunity to admit that you don’t understand something and to start asking questions. The obstacle is that part of human nature urges us to avoid confusion and stick with the answers we already have, working to make them fit. The more you heed that inner voice, and the more you assume that the answers you have must be right, the lower your chances of learning something new.
Borrowed from the public library.