by Mary Roach
Publication Date: September 1, 2021
Genre: Natural Science, Science
Publisher: W.W. Norton
What’s to be done about a jaywalking moose? A bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? Three hundred years ago, animals that broke the law would be assigned legal representation and put on trial. These days, as New York Times best-selling author Mary Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.
Roach tags along with animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and "danger tree" faller blasters. Intrepid as ever, she travels from leopard-terrorized hamlets in the Indian Himalaya to St. Peter’s Square in the early hours before the pope arrives for Easter Mass, when vandal gulls swoop in to destroy the elaborate floral display. She taste-tests rat bait, learns how to install a vulture effigy, and gets mugged by a macaque.
Combining little-known forensic science and conservation genetics with a motley cast of laser scarecrows, langur impersonators, and trespassing squirrels, Roach reveals as much about humanity as about nature’s lawbreakers. When it comes to "problem" wildlife, she finds, humans are more often the problem—and the solution. Fascinating, witty, and humane, Fuzz offers hope for compassionate coexistence in our ever-expanding human habitat.
This has not been a great week for me overall, and this arrived Tuesday afternoon (book lover’s torture #12: when you hear the delivery man leave your new books at the doorstep and you can’t get up to retrieve them), and by Wednesday I was in desperate need of a distraction. Mary Roach had me laughing out loud on page 1, and I can’t tell you how much I needed those laughs.
In her introduction she states that she’s starting with the felonious crimes first: those incidents, usually bear/cougar/mountain lion, where people are mortally wounded, and ends the book with the crimes more akin to nuisances; crop theft, stealing food, etc.
It probably says something about me that I found the first half much easier to read than the second half – or maybe not. The crimes may be ‘lesser’ but the punishments meted out by people most definitely are not. Humanity’s ability to embrace wholesale slaughter is depressing.
The author manages to end the book on a hopeful note, and while the writing isn’t always even (sometimes the humour is a tad over-done), I learned a lot and sometimes I was entertained (usually by the way the author can laugh at herself). Her writing isn’t for everyone, but for those that enjoy bit of entertaining and informative science journalism, her books usually deliver.