by Keith Taylor
Scott Weidensaul is a nature writer, but beyond that, he defies categorization. His books are informed by a personal voice, yet they also offer explanations for lay audiences of scientific particularly ornithological research by someone who earned his credentials by long years in the field banding birds and studying their life histories. He puts it all together in an evocative prose style that raises his work out of its generic limitations. His last book, Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds, was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize.
Weidensaul has just published The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species, a much quirkier book that's even more interesting for its quirks. He recounts the search for animals that probably never existed like the remnant dinosaur famously resident in that lake in Scotland, or feral panthers prowling the moors of England. "We paint the blank spots on maps with our deepest fears and secret longings," he writes, "and today we still grasp at straws, unwilling to admit that we've wrung most of the mystery out of the world."
But Weidensaul is primarily interested in stories about attempts to rescue species that border on extinction. A memorable chapter details efforts to save the black-footed ferret, a graceful weasel-like creature that lives with and feeds on prairie dogs. As the prairie dogs were largely eliminated to make way for cattle, the ferrets all but disappeared. Several times we thought they were extinct, and then small populations were discovered in remote areas. Our first efforts to save them seemed to do more harm than good, but recently, Weidensaul tells us, we've gotten better at it, reintroducing ferrets bred in captivity back into the wild.
My favorite parts of this book are the chapters where Weidensaul goes into the forests and the mountains looking for animals that have just recently been called extinct. He goes into the swamps of Louisiana
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