Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Q&A with Carl Safina

Carl Safina is the author of the new book Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace. His other books include Beyond Words and A Sea in Flames. He is the founding president of the Safina Center, and he lives on Long Island, New York.

Q: Why did you choose sperm whales, scarlet macaws, and chimpanzees as the focus of Becoming Wild?

A: Sperm whales and chimps are social creatures well researched for their culture, so they make great entry points with plenty of information. Macaws are not thought of as cultural, but they are very intriguing so I decided to go for a deeper look.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: I went for weeks with each researcher among the animals.

Lots of things surprised me. One writes books in order to be surprised —at least I do. There are lots of implications of culture for evolution and conservation—it’s not all about genetics. Culture is also an inheritance and something that evolves. Life is much more complicated that we tend to think.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: I usually have a list of about two dozen working titles, then the editor and I have lunch and bat them around. Culture is how social animals learn what to do and how to be their wild selves. The subtitles are about the main themes in each section.
Q: You write, "It used to be that animals did not need us. Now they do. Unless we value their existence, the modern tide will engulf and obliterate them. Might we reconnect?" What do you see looking ahead?

A: I see the need for humans to leave room for the rest of life on Earth. If we don’t get it, it will be grim. We will live in a much less beautiful world without the living magic that we inherited.
Q: What are you working on now?

A: Getting the book launched in April; there is a lot of prep work to create excerpts and adaptations for periodicals and so on.
Q: Anything else we should know?

A: We live in a wondrously beautiful, magically alive world. We see little of it and understand far less, though there is so much richness to enjoy, appreciate, love, and protect.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Carl Safina. 

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