Magazine article Natural History

Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific

Magazine article Natural History

Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific

Article excerpt

Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific by Tim Flannery Atlantic Monthly Press, 2012; 256 pages, $25.00

To your average Australian, Tim Flannery is best known as a fierce environmental activist, the chair of a government commission on global warming, and the author of numerous books and articles on extinction and climate change. To zoologists, he may be equally well known for such academic tomes as Mammals of New Guinea and Mammals of the South West Pacific and Moluccan Islands. Fortunately for the general reader, especially the lover of good nature writing, Flannery is also a talented and perceptive raconteur with a wealth of stories about his expeditions to seek out rare and endangered species in exotic places. I read Flannery's 1998 tale of exploration in Papua New Guinea, Throwim Way Leg, in one almost breathless sitting, my only quibble being that it ended too soon.

His latest collection of stories from the field takes him east of Papua New Guinea to some of the most remote islands of the Pacific during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Flannery was leading a team of researchers attempting to document the mammalian fauna of a region that had scarcely ever been visited by biologists. They hoped to find living evidence of species known only through single specimens that had lain in the drawers of natural history museums for more than a century. Because such creatures could now be subject to DNA testing, their presence would shed light on how mammals spread across the Pacific and how they adapted to the microenvironment of each particular island. Their absence, on the other hand, would be an indication of environmental stress-the introduction of rats, cats, or livestock, or the loss of habitat due to commercial development-and an aid to the development of effective conservation policies. …

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