When Humans Control Animals, Their Wily Resilience Can Cause “Unforeseen Consequences”

(p. A15) For the past three years, a gray squirrel has set out to ruin my life, chewing leaves off my beloved exotic hibiscus and geraniums.

. . .

. . . , Mary Roach’s “Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law” makes me feel grateful that my nemesis is only a rodent, and that I live in Ohio, not Colorado or India. My refrigerator will not be emptied by a bear; I will not be throttled by a leopard while taking out the compost.

. . .

There’s something demonic at work in India’s leopards and macaques, but the dilemma finds its root in human behavior. For centuries, feeding monkeys has been considered a religious offering, but this ritual has fueled a certain conviction on the monkeys’ part that humans are in service to them. Ms. Roach’s attempts to pin down government officials on how they might tackle the problem (including hiring more monkey catchers and staffing more monkey sterilization centers) are hilariously convoluted and laced with bizarre anecdotes. She’s passed from one office to the next and back again, never getting an answer. Before redirecting her, one official “veered off into a story about a macaque that got inside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and took to pulling IV needles out of patients’ arms and sucking the glucose like a child with a straw in a pop bottle.”

During World War II, the U.S. military established a naval air station on Midway Atoll, the strategically significant string of islets halfway between North America and Asia. But the islands turned out to be also a significant nesting ground for thousands of albatrosses, and the result was hundreds of collisions between the airplanes and the huge soaring birds. It is heartbreaking to read of sailors being made to club the long-living albatrosses—80,000 in one assault, 21,000 in another—to reduce the population. Still, nature prevailed. “For a brief time the hazard to aircraft was reduced,” read one report. “The following season there appeared to be as many albatrosses as before.” After every possible deterrent and lethal attack on the gentle birds failed, the air base was closed and in 1993 converted into a refuge. The contrast between this midcentury horror and the reverence shown earlier this year for Wisdom, the 70-year-old Laysan albatross still nesting on Midway, could hardly be more stark.

. . .

This book is largely about the unspooling of unforeseen consequences, and our feeble attempts to put the animal genies we’ve freed back into their bottles.

For the full review, see:

Julie Zickefoose. “BOOKSHELF; Rebellious Nature.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 1, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Fuzz’ Review: Rebellious Nature.”)

The book under review is:

Roach, Mary. Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law. NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.

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