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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Peter Matthiessen has journeyed from Japan to Rajasthan, from South Africa to the Australian outback, to answer a question posed by one of his neighbors back on Long Island: "Who cares about cranes?" In fact, although the future of these magnificent birds is severely threatened by the impact of Homo sapiens, they have a considerable fan base: conservationists and scientists, but also ordinary people. There is hope for the crane -- glimmers of light in the otherwise dark litany of environmental devastation recounted by Matthiessen in this wise and wide-ranging book.
A well-known naturalist, novelist, and travel writer, Matthiessen has joined crane research expeditions around the world during the past decade. In retracing the birds' long migratory routes from breeding to feeding grounds, he clambers over the Siberian tundra, rides across Mongolia, and scales the heights of Bhutan. Alongside detailed observations of the cranes and their habits, Matthiessen paints the alarming portrait of a world slowly squeezing away the last of its wild spaces. Wildlife is under siege as wetlands are reclaimed, rivers dammed, and forests cleared for the expanding populations of countries like China and India.
Particularly chilling is his visit to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, which has become an unlikely refuge for cranes. "To see such creatures in these sullen borderlands, skirting barbed-wire fences and embankments, highway construction and utility poles, in a ruptured landscape torn by loud and unnatural noises, is deeply saddening." It is emblematic of our own failings as a species that we have brought so many others to the brink of extinction.
Still, if humans are the major reason for the decline of the world's cranes, we may also represent their potential salvation. Conservationists are lobbying to create nature reserves for the birds and are trying to build on traditional reverence for the crane in societies like Japan and Russia. In the United States, sandhill and whooping crane populations have begun to rebound from perilously low levels, thanks to intensive conservation and education work. Such painstaking efforts at captive breeding and reintroduction lead Matthiessen to consider "the lengths to which man is driven to salvage the last wild survivors of his own heedless course on earth." Can the rest of the world's cranes be saved? That question is inextricably linked with a larger one: whether we can save the planet from ourselves. (Jonathan Cook)