Book Review: Wild Souls by Emma Marris

“The only way to really stop life from changing is to kill it.”
It was in reading an UNDARK article called ‘The Fascist History of De-Extinction’ back in 2017 that I came to realize there were bigger implications to why I thought that zoos were wrong and why I disagreed so much with other conservation efforts (eg how we treat and talk about “invasive” or “non-native” species). I came to the conclusion that how we define “nature” sometimes is tainted with a goal of “ecological purity” that sounds too similar to the way racists talk about “racial purity.” It’s because these viewpoints are from the same system. WILD SOULS is part of the discourse breaking down those frameworks, if not more accessible and relevant to the average environmentalist and person who claims to “love animals.” It is more philosophical and practical than other theoretical and suppositional texts dealing with this same subject.
I no longer agree with the term and goals of conservation, but it wasn’t until this book that I felt so validated and like I could voice it aloud—that this is a conversation not just those interested in animal rights should be having, but those interested in environmental and habitat protections. It is everything so many of us did not have the words or examples to articulate. I feel like this has the chance to reach the “scientific community” where they’d otherwise brush off these views as idealist.
Marris writes “I am not so sure there are any ‘wild animals’ left.’ How we define what is wild is complicated and usually centers ourselves, neglecting the fact that we, too, have always been part of nature and that trying to conserve aesthetic aspects of a species or habitat or revert them back to a specific place in time is problematic and ignores indigenous contributions. Some species (animal and plant) have always depended on humans; they have evolved that way, so defining nature and wilderness as something apart from humans is incorrect. Marris states that “we can revel in the non-human without disdaining the human,” meaning the labels of ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’ are still valuable in definitions, but there are frameworks that we need to rethink.


“To make good environmental decision, we must stop focusing on trying to remove or undo human influence, on turning back time or freezing the non-human world in amber. We must instead acknowledge the extent to which we have influenced our current world and take some responsibility for its future trajectory…We should not seek to carefully control every plant and animal on the planet. We couldn’t even if we wanted to.”


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