News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by
Arts & Entertainment

'Wild Ones' examines the relationship between human and animal

Andrew E. Derocher

Listen to story

Download this story 5MB

Half of the world's 9-million species could go extinct by the end of this century.

That's a pretty startling idea, but what exactly does that mean? Should we intervene and try to save these species or should we just let nature take its course? 

These are some of the questions New York Times magazine writer Jon Mooallem explores in his book. It's called "Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story about Looking at People Looking at Animals in America." 

Interview Highlights:

On our changing opinions on polar bears:
"The polar bear is a prime case where the reputation has done a complete 180 in our minds. You've got this interesting situation where it's been a very shrewd and purposeful move by environmentalists to capitalize on the polar bear as a victim of climate change. [It's] something that is going to be cuddly and friendly enough for us to get our heads around as a harbinger of some very scary things that are going to happen in the future because of climate change. As sea ice disappears, the polar bear is basically going to lose its habitat. Environmentalists like to use this story as a canary in the coalmine."

On the butterfly found in northern California:
"This is a butterfly called the Lange's Metalmark Butterfly. It's pretty small, about the size of a dime. It lives on a little scrap of land called the Antioch Dunes, which is midway between San Francisco and Sacramento. It's sandwiched between a waste transfer station and a water treatment facility. It's a grim place. Somehow the butterfly has survived here. I really wanted to go there, and I wanted to trace what happened over the last 100 years to this property and all the people who's stories came in and out of the story of the butterfly. People who cared about or fought for it and would eventually become disillusioned just in time for another generation to come along with the same idealism that they once felt."

On the kind of people who fight for the butterfly:
"Butterfly people in particular, I was completely fascinated by them. I never knew such a subculture existed, but it's a lot like bird-watching people. They'll go out and they've got a huge mental database of different species and subspecies, what they look like and even what their flight patterns look like so they can pick out these things as they go whizzing by. But really, I just found it inspiring that here were people who were still out at the Antioch Dunes pulling weeds and trying to make a better habitat for this butterfly in this place where I think a lot of people would've given up."

Read an excerpt of the book: