I was so happy when Mary Roach announced this book, because I have been missing her writing. I never read her last book, even though I tried and couldn’t get more than ten minutes in before waving the white flag, because reading about warfare and war and its consequences is something that I found actively unpleasant. And this book sounded so silly! And it’s about animals. I fucking love animals! Even the ones most people dislike, like rats and spiders and snakes. I anticipated laughter and cuteness and lots of stupid human animal conflict.
Well, there was some of that for sure! I did laugh at various points in this book, because you just can’t keep Mary Roach down. But what this mostly ended up being was a tragic tale of what happens to animals when people move into their natural habitats and start fucking shit up. Badness for both the people and the animals, usually. Apparently, for instance, the entire island of New Zealand is currently attempting to eradicate all invasive species from the island so the natural fauna and flora can bounce back from, in some cases, pre-extinction levels (this includes one of the world’s dumbest animals, the kakapo), but also the kiwi! And the yellow-eyed penguin. They want to do this by the year 2050. This is good news for the the native animals and plants. This is bad news for the thousands and thousands and thousands of rats, rabbits, stoats, and feral cats who will have to be killed to make it happen.
The book is full of emotionally contradicting stories like that, because this is a surprisingly tough subject. Like, bears breaking into your house (your! locked! house!), unequivocally a bad thing. But, do the bears deserve to die for this? Particularly as more and more people insist on building their house in the bears’ territories, impinging on their food supplies? (FYI, there is one city in the US whose name I can’t remember right now who has a pair of women employees whose only job is to enforce bear safety measures like locking dumpsters properly or they will fine you. The city calls them “bear bitches.”) And what happens when religion and animal conflicts interact, as in India, with the unbelievable pests the macaques, who mug you and ransom your goods back to you for food, or who invade your house and raid your refrigerator? One man shares the story of how he woke up one day with a macaque on his chest.
This whole book was super interesting, and extremely thought provoking in a way that all the previous books I’ve read from her have not been. They’ve dealt with some serious subjects, but not had overarching serious points, if that makes sense. Here there is definitely one. Devising humane solutions for human/animal conflicts takes effort, resources, time, and a willingness to think outside the box. Roach seems hopeful in the end that we can get there if we want to.
The subject matter was a little too depressing for five stars, sadly. I didn’t anticipate the tragedy of what she was researching here. (You must be able to stomach talk of animals dying and being killed.) It’s still amusing (so much talk of animal poo!), but it’s also sad and frustrating. If you want a truly funny and sciencey book from Roach, try Packing For Mars, Bonk, or Gulp.