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An optimistic call for saving life on Earth

  • No More Endlings: Saving Species One Story at a Time is a new compilation put together by Allison Hegan.
  • The book includes dozens of conservation stories.
  • 50 percent of proceeds will go back to conservation efforts to help save wildlife on the ground.

Need an antidote to all the gloomy and frustrating environmental news? The new book No More Endlings: Saving Species One Story at a Time may prove just the thing. No More Endlings (an endling refers to the last individual of a doomed species) details 47 endangered species success stories. Told in the words of the passionate and heroic conservationists working to save their favorite species, the book crisscrosses the world in search of both the attention-grabbing charismatic species and the little-known underdogs fighting for their survival with little funding and less attention.

“Ultimately, my aim is for No More Endlings to help people make the connection between all species, their importance within each of their ecosystems and their importance within our own lives,” the editor of No More Endlings, Allison Hegan, told Mongabay in an interview. “Animals and plants provide beauty in our world, food and medicine, pique our curiosity, inspire creativity and innovation, and enrich our lives in countless ways.”

The book also walks the walk: fifty percent of proceeds for No More Endlings: Saving Species One Story at a Time will go back to conservation efforts to help save wildlife on the ground.

In an interview with Mongabay, Hegan tells how a conversation on LinkedIn led her to start work on the book, how she chose the species and stories and the many ways in which wildlife make the world better.

Hornbills are a focus of one of the chapters in the book. Knobbed hornbill photo by Rhett A. Butler

AN INTERVIEW WITH ALLISON HEGAN

Will you tell us about the origins of this book? What inspired you to take on this project?

When I first started working on No More Endlings: Saving Species One Story at a Time back in 2010, I was living in Los Angeles at my parents’ house like so many recent college grads, and had desperately been searching for full-time work. Originally, I was looking for work in my field, broadly speaking, the environmental world, but eventually I applied to whatever was available and would have gladly accepted anything that came my way. After accepting dog-walking and temp work, I was really discouraged by the fact that I couldn’t be doing something to support my passion. Then, after posting to a group on LinkedIn, I received a suggestion from a member to work on a book.

Initially, I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing or how I was going to get people to contribute to No More Endlings, but I knew that its message was worth fighting for. I took it one day at a time and tried to learn as much as I could from friends in the publishing world and bloggers on the internet. There was certainly some hesitation at the start and I questioned whether I really had anything to offer the book with no directly related field experience of my own. Fortunately, I realized early on that I shouldn’t get bogged down in what I couldn’t do and should focus on what I could. I knew I could act as a kind of glue, bringing very different stories together from those working in the field, depicting the human side of saving species, and thus try to inspire readers to action.

Although No More Endlings has scientific sections and beautiful photographs accompanying each chapter, its heart and soul is in the stories. The stories needed to be the focus, since we often learn from stories before experiences. We know it is not wise to swim with an open wound in shark-infested waters from stories we have heard. A person doesn’t have to experience this first hand to know this. The same is true for the stories in No More Endlings. The book shares the experiences, emotions and valuable messages of the contributors and allows the reader to understand and feel something without ever having to experience it first-hand.

Many of the chapters in the book deal with lesser-known species and not charismatic, big animals. Was this a conscious decision, if so why? 

This was definitely a conscious decision. I know for myself that I have always been drawn to the charismatic species that you tend to see on nature programs, but I am equally fascinated by the underdogs, the less beautiful, the often ignored species of the natural world. However, I wanted to include both in No More Endlings. It did not seem fair to discount species simply because they are charismatic and in the spotlight more, so I intentionally included some of the most beloved creatures such as big cats and bears, in order to add to the dialogue. Although lions receive a lot of attention, there is some ground-breaking work being done in southern Kenya with an organization called Lion Guardians. In No More Endlings’ chapter “The Donkey & the Porcupine” readers will learn about Lion Guardians’ efforts, which transform Maasai lion killers into lion guardians, who love and protect “their” lions. It is a story of hope and a reminder that conservation efforts can be successful.

While readers will enjoy reading about lions and other creatures they admire, they will also be hooked into the accounts of some lesser-known, but equally amazing, and sometimes unexpectedly likeable species. Insects are often overlooked when it comes to “relatable” species that the public is interested in saving, but something as seemingly uncharismatic as a grasshopper can be very endearing and complex on closer inspection, as illustrated by the Epirus grasshopper’s intricate courtship dance in the chapter, “A Prima Ballerina Courtship.” Even plants can have intriguing stories to tell, as readers will find out in the chapter “Nature’s Living Toilets” about the colossal and carnivorous Nepenthes rajah, a type of pitcher plant.

Throughout the course of putting this book together, many people have asked why I didn’t include a particular species. Although it would be wonderful to highlight all species in No More Endlings as they are each worthy of protection, it is simply impossible to include a comprehensive list of threatened species in this book, considering there are over 8 million estimated species on this earth, and over 17,000 that we know are threatened in some way. Instead, I have tried to include a balance of different types of species (e.g. mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, fish, birds and plants), different locations around the globe and contrasting conservationists.

Ultimately, my aim is for No More Endlings to help people make the connection between all species, their importance within each of their ecosystems and their importance within our own lives. Animals and plants provide beauty in our world, food and medicine, pique our curiosity, inspire creativity and innovation, and enrich our lives in countless ways. The species on this earth are astounding in their diversity, and if they perish, are likely never to exist again. I hope by highlighting just a fraction of them in this book, readers will be encouraged to action.

While each essay focuses on a different species, many of them seem as much about how people treat and view wildlife. Will you say more about this?  

This book is as much about people as it is about the different species it represents. The contributors in No More Endlings have all gotten to know the species, with which they work, on a personal level. This means that they see the species with a different lens than the rest of us do and each species’ life is magnified to them, not lost in the maze of nature or seen as separate from ourselves. Through observation, each species life cycle, social interactions and quirks become apparent. And after observing the species as a whole for a time, each individual’s unique traits or character may become apparent as well. Humans are a social species and so it makes sense that when a person observes another species long enough, gets to know it, understands its behaviors, witnesses its relationships or emotions in whatever form these may take, it is hard not to become a bit attached. I think with most of my contributors, whether they intend to or not, they are each trying to get other people to see what they see, the uniqueness, the value and perhaps even the spirit of the species with which they work in the hope that other people will care. They do this through working with local communities and local governments where the species live, and on the world stage through international conferences and media.

What was the most important lesson you learned from the experts trying to save endangered species?

The experts in No More Endlings are passionate, determined and pragmatic. Although all qualities are important, I have found through their stories that if a conservationist wants to be successful at conserving species, that person needs to be especially pragmatic. The biggest obstacle for conservationists is finding practical, economically feasible and sustainable solutions with governments and local communities to save species. These solutions are rarely clear-cut or obvious, but crucial to long-term, sustainable success of any conservation initiatives.

Baobab trees are featured in the book. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

Having worked with dozens of conservationists on this book, how would you describe their job? What kind of person does it take to be a successful conservationist?

No More Endlings’ experts vary greatly in terms of their culture and background and not all are Ph.D. scientists as some might expect, but all of them are VERY passionate and determined people. They deeply care for the species they are working to save and it shows in each of their stories. Of course, they all show it in different ways, some through their intense scientific research such as those fighting in New Zealand to save the world’s smallest dolphins, others through their protests and undercover operations to expose illegal driftnets, endangering marine life in the Mediterranean, and still others through educating the public, whether it is through teaching at universities, writing for media outlets, or sharing their photography and film such as Dereck and Beverly Joubert’s The Last Lions. Ultimately, they all show that a conservationist isn’t just one thing. A successful conservationist can be many things and it takes many different kinds of conservationists coming from all angles to drive change in society and get people to care about our environment and the species with which we share this planet. I would have to say that all my contributors have passion, perseverance and hope. They are all pretty amazing people in my book—no pun intended.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in environmental circles today. Is this an accurate response to the crisis? 

The doom and gloom response is only somewhat accurate. I tend to think of the current environmental movement as continuously taking two steps forward and one step back. Although progress is slow and often met with vehement opposition from governments, special interests and even individuals, it is still taking place. For some species, the rate at which we are trying to save them may not be enough and some have already gone extinct in our lifetime and many more will likely follow suit. But to look at this or any environmental setback as doom and gloom, implies that we should give up, that there is no point to even try to salvage the wreckage and protect what remains. Apathy will certainly lead to a doom and gloom outcome, but hope, perseverance, innovation and pragmatic solutions will push the conservation movement forward. Conservationists must be eternal optimists. Why else would any of them bother to continue their research, fight in court to protect species such as grey wolves or create books such as No More Endlings. However, I do believe that we are at a turning point in our world, either on the cusp of great environmental catastrophe or great opportunity to make our world better. My hope is that we make the right decision and with the help of the contributors in this book and the many others out there, who are also fighting for our environment, we can still imagine a future with no more endlings.

 

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,

committed citizens can change the world;

indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”