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Jon Mooallem's new book is Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America. Mooallem is interested in how people think and feel about animals, and of course, so are all of us at Vetstreet. We talked to him about some of the absurd, strange but ultimately encouraging things he's encountered while writing about our view of our fellow creatures.
Q. Much of your book focuses on the sometimes strange lengths people will go to to conserve an endangered species. But you've also been writing elsewhere about other ways humans get mixed up with animals: For instance, on Twitter you've become the main man on the beat covering animal-caused power failures.
A. I'm trying to be a one-stop shop for news about power outages caused by squirrels on my Twitter feed. I just kind of find it hilarious, slightly troubling, and a little exhilarating that something like a squirrel can take out power for thousands of people. We live in our bubble of society, thinking that nature is "out there." But nature crosses this invisible line we draw around ourselves all the time, and sometimes when it does, the power goes out.
Q. You also write a column for Wiredthat gathers news of odd human-wild animal encounters. Many are not exactly the heartwarming sorts of stories people love: Bears breaking into cars, a groundhog terrorizing a little league game. Do you think our view of animals is a bit unrealistic sometimes?
A. Yeah, I think we tend to romanticize animals a lot of the time. We think that wildlife is out there getting along in the woods by itself and has nothing to do with us, and I love these cases where our worlds kind of collide — that's why I started writing Wild Ones. I had a daughter, our first child, and I saw her getting surrounded by these cutesy stuffed animals and animal paraphernalia, polar bear sippy cups and butterfly pajamas. At the same time I was doing reporting for the New York Times Magazine about all these ridiculous-seeming, very intensive ways that America was actually having to prop up endangered species and keep them surviving. The idea that we have nothing to do with these animals was clearly wrong.
Q. You've also written elsewhere about other situations where people go to great lengths over an animal — take the Tampa Bay monkey, which you wrote about for The New York Times. Not an endangered species in its natural habitat, but one individual animal that was quite out of place.
A. A lot of the book is about conservation efforts, but ... it's [more] about the way we perceive animals and how we think and feel about them as an idea. The Tampa monkey story is a really great case that animated a lot of those ideals and those ironies. Because here you had a macaque that was on the loose in Tampa.... The government was bent on capturing it — they thought it was quite dangerous — but people really adopted the monkey as a symbol of liberty.
I was there during the buildup to the Republican National Convention, so the idea of personal liberty and a wasteful government that was running around town spending money trying to catch this monkey — these were real flash points for a lot of the bigger political conversations.
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