Outstanding Academic Titles 2023: Wildlife and Conservation

This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year pertaining to wildlife and conservation.

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2023 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year pertaining to wildlife and conservation. A hearty congratulations to the winning authors, editors and publishers!

1. What is extinction?: a natural and cultural history of last animals
Schuster, Joshua. Fordham, 2023

Schuster (Western Univ., Canada) views extinction from various angles, including the usual/familiar tallies of animals that have gone extinct, or nearly so, along with accounts of other flora and fauna around the world, showing how the tallies have increased because of human environmental pressures over many years. Most species discussed (such as the American bison) have been driven to near-extinction by purposeful actions of humanity or as side-effects of human ignorance. Polar bears remain in the waiting-room for extinction, with only 26,000 remaining, along with 20,000 lions and 10,000 blue whales. Schuster counts 3,000 tigers in the wild and 10,000 in captivity. About 40 percent of insects, birds, fish, and plants are not far behind. In the course of human history, some groups have tried (and failed) to obliterate others—Schuster cites the assault against Jews during the Holocaust, and intrusions into the homelands of Indigenous peoples around the world. But, Schuster suggests, the ultimate, worldwide extinction event is yet to come, caused by humans through emissions of greenhouse gases. This event will take time, given a current population of about nine billion people on Earth, but if the past is any guide, Schuster posits, human extinction will be the peak event in the history of our species. View on Amazon

2. Justice for animals: our collective responsibility
Nussbaum, Martha C. Simon & Schuster, 2023

Distinguished professor of philosophy and law Nussbaum (Univ. of Chicago) is author of over 20 books, among them Frontiers of Justice (CH, Dec’06, 44-2056) and Anger and Forgiveness (CH, Nov’16, 54-1138). At the heart of the work under review is Nussbaum’s guiding principle, the capabilities approach, extended here to posit that each sentient creature should have the opportunity to flourish in the form of life characteristic for that creature. Who are sentient creatures? Nussbaum’s answer: all those beings who can have a subjective point of view on the world and who can feel pain and pleasure. Following this theorem, “justice for animals” lies in the actualization of such opportunities in animals’ everyday lives. In the course of advocating for animals and their well-being, Nussbaum has plenty of interest to say about, e.g., puppy mills, factory farming, the plight of whales and other wildlife, and the responsibilities we bear with respect to our non-human animal friends. Acknowledging the need to go beyond legal reformism, Nussbaum nevertheless concludes that the biggest obstacle to justice for animals lies in their lack of legal standing. This book is a must read. View on Amazon

3. The Living planet: the state of the world’s wildlife
ed. by Norman Maclean Cambridge, 2023

This work edited by geneticist Maclean (emer., Univ. of Southampton) represents an effort to benchmark the status and decline of wildlife species around the world—an ambitious task to accomplish even in 400 pages. Chapter 1, authored by Maclean, is a very well-written and concise overview of the evolution of life on Earth. Each of the following 16 chapters covers a taxonomic class or subclass, e.g., “Reptiles,” written by Philip Bowles. The remaining four chapters provide an overview of species conservation efforts. Chapter authors range from postdoctoral scholars to emeritus professors. The broad scope of the taxonomic chapters relegates each to a 20,000-foot view; some authors include case study examples to complement this necessarily coarse-grained approach. The glue that binds these chapters is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Each chapter includes an outline of what percentage of species within the given taxon were Red List evaluated, including biodiversity status indicators (EX for “extinct,” CR for “critically endangered,” etc.) for the subset of animals to which this tool was applied. The IUCN data allow rough comparisons among taxa, notwithstanding the fact that certain taxa are less well represented—e.g., chapter 11’s coverage of insects is relatively sparse. View on Amazon

4. The lion: behavior, ecology, and conservation of an iconic species
Packer, Craig. Princeton, 2023

The lion is an iconic creature—awesome, yet vulnerable. Packer (Univ. of Minnesota) details his 38 years of study of this species. Readers learn that lion prides have a complex yet fluid social structure focused around two or more lionesses. Larger groups are more successful and longer-lived than singletons, and groups fare better with at least one male protector. Packer recognizes individuals by their scars or their whisker patterns. All aspects of behavior—breeding, cub care, hunting—are analyzed by group composition. Packer studies who is travelling with whom and what they are killing and eating, as well as the costs and benefits of living in groups. Success lies in raising offspring to adulthood, which means defending against hyaenas and other intruding males who will kill the young to favor their own offspring. Multimale consortia keep out male intruders and enhance feeding and reproductive success. Competition among males for access to females is severe, sometimes lethal. Packer examines population regulation, considering the impacts of disease in some years, and competition and strife in others. Available habitat with prey and without people has shrunk. Lethal encounters with humans have increased. Overall, lions are in trouble. The final chapter examines the big threats—disease, trophy hunting, and bushmeat trapping—but expresses some hope for the future. View on Amazon

5Wild diplomacy: cohabiting with wolves on a new ontological map
Morizot, Baptiste. by Baptiste Morizot; tr. by Catherine Porter SUNY Press, 2022

Unlike the US government’s reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, wolves found their own way back to France more than half a century after their eradication. The inevitable result was, and remains, conflicts between livestock farmers and wolves in a rural France that is becoming ecologically wilder as human populations there decline. Whether as a result of reintroduction plans or an outcome of the natural dispersal tendencies of these tenacious apex predators, the global question of how to live with wolves is coming to the forefront. In Wild Diplomacy, philosopher Morizot (Aix-Marseille Univ.) argues that neither of the historical approaches to managing large predators—exterminating them or confining them to preserves—is currently tenable. He proposes negotiating with wolves in ways that can alter pack behavior and redirect them toward hunting wild prey. This necessitates a better, more complete understanding of wolf society. It also requires a different diplomatic approach, one that emphasizes developing relations instead of prioritizing one entity over another. Morizot systematically evaluates and expounds on the necessary biological, ethological, ecological, cultural, philosophical, and political elements necessary for cohabitating with wolves. This is a noble effort, clearly advanced and brilliantly argued. View on Amazon

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