The name “Hundred Heartbeat Club” was first used by E.O. Wilson in “Vanishing Before Our Eyes”, and refers to species that “literally have fewer than 100 hearts beating on our planet”. Jeff Corwin’s new book, entitled “100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species”, is their story. It’s an important book and I highly recommend it.
Personal encounters with endangered animals are told with the skill of a polished story teller. Vivid descriptions of the dangers facing wildlife are interspersed with stories of the heroes and actions that are trying to save the animals.
The book must have taken thousands of hours of research. Among my favorite tidbits is the description of a condor flying – “the beating of those wings, like the sound of sheets flapping on a clothesline in an angry gale” – is why “Native Americans nicknamed the condor ‘thunderbird’ ”.
Corwin’s passion for wild animals is clear and he’s not afraid of making readers feel emotions. His account of the evacuation of condors from the path of a fire approaching Ventana (California) is high drama, capturing the feelings of carrying endangered birds out through smoke in a US Navy helicopter.
Corwin gets it right on, such as his discussion of the bushmeat crisis. He writes about the local people: “And like everyone else in the world, they want three things: jobs, education for their children, and good medical care”. He adds, “That’s why partnerships with human development agencies and local communities are essential. It is possible if there’s a global commitment to conserve biodiversity.”
The stories behind the conservation headlines also include details about the dreadfully polluted and dammed up Yangtze River, the global disappearance of amphibians which he calls “the canaries in the coalmine”, and the determined fight to save rhinos, among others. Stories such as the comeback of the black footed ferret – which was thought to be extinct till a farmer’s dog dragged a dead one into their house, revealing a nearby living population – are amazing and give hope that similar events will occur.
It is hoped that this book will “serve as a catalyst, educating people about the state of our natural world and compelling them to help protect it for future generations”. Our challenges require the efforts of everyone – “everybody from the leader of a nation to somebody who’s just learning about this for the first time”. “Perhaps the most important component of any possible solution is having the will to find one,” Corwin quotes Richard G. Ruggiero, PhD, of the USFWS Division of International Conservation.
“It’s true that for endangered species, every day presents a challenge. But it’s also true that every day presents opportunities for us to make resounding strides,” writes Corwin. “We have the chance to do it, and we can succeed. Every heartbeat matters.”