The repercussions of the international wildlife trade, which is a primary driver of our planet’s biodiversity crisis, have recently hit close to home. With the society-altering impacts of Covid-19, which scientists think originated in wild animals, and the cultural storm around the Netflix hit “Tiger King,” the true cost of the wildlife trade and the U.S.’s role in driving it have become topics of national concern. In this episode, we speak with Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Attorney Zak Smith, who has fought for years to protect at-risk wildlife from exploitation. Smith discusses his work leveraging international, federal, and state and local mechanisms to safeguard some of our planet’s most iconic species — such as vaquitas, giraffes, and elephants — and his vision for a more sustainable, equitable world.
Bears, like other carnivores, are typically cast as unthinking, emotionless killers. But the late naturalist Charlie Russell believed this tragic misperception hides the truth about who bears really are. Charlie’s life story changed how humans perceive grizzly bears. While other scientists and naturalists were studying bears from a distance, tranquilizing them and tagging them with trackers, Charlie chose to live, intimately and without harm, among bears for decades in far east Russia and in North America. His objectives were as different as his methods. “Biologists know a lot—how many calories a bear needs every day, their numbers, and so on. This is good information, but it doesn’t really tell you anything about who a bear is,” he told our guest. “I’ve never wanted to know about bears, I’ve only wanted to understand them.” In her much anticipated new book, “Talking with Bears” (Rocky Mountain Books, fall 2019), Dr. Gay Bradshaw tells Russell’s story, built on a decade of conversations about and two lifetimes devoted to searching for the truth of who animals really are. An internationally renowned expert on animal trauma and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, Dr. Bradshaw has spent her life exploring the minds, emotions and lives of animals, and pushing and inspiring science and society to better understand them.
For decades, researchers have debated whether or not animals make friends. “Friends” — the taboo “f word” — was generally put in quotes if it was used at all. But if you study the social networks of elephants, whales and other animals, it is clear that they have friends just like we do, according to Dr. Nicholas Christakis. Friendship, like other societal characteristics, evolved independently and convergently across species.
Co-Director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, Dr. Christakis is a leading Yale sociologist and physician known for his research on human social networks and biosocial science. In this episode, he speaks with us about the ancient origins and modern implications of our common animality and his new book, Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society.
During his travels in South America at the close of the 18th century, the German explorer Alexander von Humboldt came upon a parrot speaking the words of a lost Indian tribe. The encounter inspired our guest, acclaimed author and New York Times Magazine writer Charles Siebert, to imagine the echoes of human language that might persist, in nonhuman voices, once we are gone. We speak with Siebert about his reporting on humans’ wonder for and wounding of animals, the reach of metaphor, and what he discovered in the gaze of a chimpanzee named Roger.