Rick Bass first made a name for himself as a writer and seeker of rare, iconic animals, including the grizzlies and wolves of the American West. Read more...
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Rick Bass first made a name for himself as a writer and seeker of rare, iconic animals, including the grizzlies and wolves of the American West. Now he's off on a new, far-flung adventure in the Namib of southwest Africa on the trail of another fascinating, vulnerable species. The black rhino is a three-thousand-pound, squinty-eyed giant that sports three-foot-long dagger horns, lives off poisonous plants, and goes for days without water.
Human intervention and cutting-edge conservation saved the rhinos--for now--from the brink of extinction brought on by poaching and war. Against the backdrop of one of the most ancient and harshest terrains on earth, Bass, with his characteristic insight and grace, probes the complex relationship between humans and nature and meditates on our role as both destroyer and savior.
In the tradition of Peter Matthiessen's The Tree Where Man Was Born, Bass captures a haunting slice of Africa, especially of the "black" rhinos that glow ghostly white in the gleaming sun.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-06-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Novelist and memoirist Bass (Why I Came West) records his travels to Namibia to “witness... a ponderous beast out upon such a naked and seemingly unsupporting landscape.” At Damaraland, in the Namib Desert, Bass encounters activist Mike Hearn of the Save the Rhino Trust. Throughout the book, Bass renders an affectionate portrait of Hearn and his life’s work defending rhinos. No actual rhino appears until more than halfway through, when searches culminate in two perilous and riveting encounters. Later, Bass travels from Damaraland to the tamer and popular Etosha National Park. While the rhino’s plight, and efforts to ensure its recovery, are given considerable attention, Bass’s time in the desert, among its animals and vastness, focuses him on “the big questions”: the origin of life, the rhino’s miraculous adaptation to the desert’s austerity, and what humanity can learn from the magnificent animal. Time in the desert also yields touching meditations on time itself—its nature, and our experience of it. To describe the desert, another protagonist, Bass must examine the nature of perception: “The barren land unscrolls before us as if being created by the very act of our seeing.” On occasion, Bass struggles to infuse the ruminations with poetry; his prose, packed with similes and comparisons, can be cumbersome. Agent: Robert Datilla, the Phoenix Literary Agency. (Aug.)
A voice for endangered rhinos
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.