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February 03, 1991|Charles Solomon

WILD ECHOES: Encounters With the Most Endangered Animals in North America by Charles Bergman (Alaska Northwest Books: $12.95, illustrated). Charles Bergman offers an impassioned plea to reevalaute the attitudes toward nature that resulted in the destruction of so many North American animals, including Steller's sea cow and the Carolina parakeet. A professor of literature, Bergman mixes a discussion of the symbolic relationship between humans and animals with his descriptions of first-hand observations of wolves, manatees, California condors and Florida panthers. The references to Thomas Aquinas, Rene Descartes, Herman Melville and Michel Foucault set Bergman's work apart from more conventional conservationist tracts, but his arguments often seem inappropriate. In a chapter on the efforts to save the California condor, he likens the role of zoos in rehabilitating threatened species, to society placing "outcasts, misfits, the marginal, the mad, the criminal" in confinement; yet the only alternative to the zoo-based plan was certain extinction. An interesting contribution to the ongoing debate over environmental issues.

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