The New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert has twice in recent years written epic works on the fragility of the planet – and life on it. In a recent commentary, (July issue) she continues reporting about the road to extinction, using the death of Satao, an ancient bull elephant in Kenya, at the hands of poachers, as her lead-in, adding to it the dire state of rhinos worldwide. Ivory has become the “blood diamonds” of Africa, facilitated by criminal gangs and used to fuel armed militias.
“Driving the slaughter is desire,” she says. ” Ivory, most of which ends up in China, can fetch fifteen hundred dollars a pound on the black market. Rhino horn is sold in Asia for medicinal properties (of which it has none). It has also become a status symbol in Vietnam, where it’s ground up and served in a tea or snorted as a party ‘drug.’” Read the whole essay
Kolbert’s skill as a journalist is her ability to research and gain an astonishing command of scientific research, facts and trends. The New York Times calls her “one of our very best science writers.” In an age of easy journalism – all of the online fluff – she works the old-fashioned way (we used to call it “shoe leather” reporting) to share what she has learned and synthesize complex issues.
Her latest book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Henry Holt & Co.) has been called a major “…book about the future of the world, blending intellectual and natural history and field reporting into a powerful account of the mass extinction unfolding before our eyes.”
In the Guardian interview, she states: “One third of all reef-building corals, a third of all freshwater molluscs, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are heading towards oblivion.” Read a book excerpt
Read the New York Times book review
Watch the Kolbert interview on Tavis Smiley