August 2012

A voice for endangered rhinos

By Rick Bass
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Environmental author Rick Bass is basically a grizzly bear guy. Well, grizzlies and wolves. His writing ranges widely, but his home is in the Yaak Valley of Montana, and his focus has mostly been the American West. Still, the writer/activist is nothing if not adventurous, so when an opportunity arose a few years ago for a trip to southwest Africa, he was game. The impressive result is The Black Rhinos of Namibia, by turns exciting, reflective and moving.

The critically endangered black rhino had no real predators until men armed with guns happened along, reducing its population from an estimated 100,000 to below 2,500 in a remarkably short time. But by the time Bass arrived, the species was making a fragile comeback, thanks to the efforts of conservationists. Their hope is to develop a tourism industry around rhino-sighting—the kind of future that Bass would like to see for grizzlies.

In search of the elusive rhinos, Bass and a friend traveled with Mike Hearn, the young field director for the Save the Rhinos Trust. Their first sight of rhinos, a mother and calf, is the thrilling centerpiece of the book, at once exhilarating and frightening.

But Bass gives readers more than an entertaining adventure. He’s a ruminative writer, always turning over his own feelings and wrestling with the larger meaning of human interaction with the environment. And the book is a fine tribute to Hearn, whose devotion to the rhinos exemplifies for Bass how humans can save instead of destroy.

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