In "Search for the Golden Moon Bear," nature writer Sy Montgomery
once again demonstrates her dogged perseverance in tracking her
subject, in this case, the elusive golden moon bear, which if found,
could become a new species of bear.
Like a war journalist who races from Croatia to Somalia to
Afghanistan to report crisis and human tragedy, Montgomery exposes
the battles of man against animals in the jungles and cities of
Cambodia, Thailand, and other areas in Indochina.
As in her earlier books on the great apes, man-eating tigers, and
pink river dolphins, she takes us on an expedition starting with
geography and biology, and ending with our own conscience.
Her search for the golden or blond moon bear is enchanting and
gruesome, as she relates the folklore and the history of local
cultures that serve to both protect and destroy the animal
populations around them. While reverence used to protect some Asian
animals, like the tiger, now poachers are going after these big cats
and bears because they fetch high prices from people who want to use
various parts of the animals for so-called elixirs.
And in a bizarre twist of fate, the brutal Khmer Rouge, who
tortured and killed several million Cambodians in the 1970s,
actually helped safeguard animals. The reason: When the Khmer Rouge
were in the forest, the local villagers were afraid to go out and
hunt. But all that has changed now, and villagers and poachers alike
are killing mother moon bears in the forest, and selling their cubs
crammed into tiny cages in city markets.
Despite laws against keeping bears as pets, there are hundreds of
bears in households in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. It's the same
story elsewhere in Asia. Bears in China serve as watchdogs, and even
are trained to help with household chores.
Montgomery began her expeditions with nature experts in search of
the golden moon bears. Among her research companions was Dr. Gary
Galbreath, an evolutionary biology professor at Northwestern
University near Chicago, and Sun Hean, head of the Cambodian
Wildlife Conservation Department. Together, they navigated through
the tough city markets and streets of Cambodia, as well as the
country's lush, dense forests that camouflage poisonous snakes, land
mines, poachers, and bandits.
The object of their desire, the golden moon bear, is found from
northeastern Russia and China to Afghanistan, but has been little
studied. The bear's original Latin name, Selenarctos thibetanus,
honors Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon. …