NWS: It’s funny that you cut your teeth writing in a zoo. Did you find yourself sort of leaning over one of your experiences there when you started writing “Fuzz”?
SIR: Well, that was definitely an animal-centric story. Everything I wrote had to do with animals for the most part. But no, I don’t think that really influenced the decision to write this book because, in general, I find animals – although they are incredibly interesting and attractive, fun to watch and really interesting to discover – they do. ‘are not very quotable. [laughs]
NWS: To get away from the animals for a minute, I noticed that a lot of people are focusing on the animal parts of the book, but I haven’t seen a lot of people asking about the “veg” parts of the book, which are also part of nature. Considering your reporting, do you think the non-animal part of nature is more dangerous despite all the time we spend worrying about bear attacks and cougar mutilations and the like?
SIR: Oh yes, absolutely. We should focus on the very very the smallest of all animals. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, I mean these are the creatures you really want to be afraid of. Yes, bacteria, viruses, even some molds. I don’t have the numbers, but I can tell you that between one and three people a year in this country are killed by bears – how many people are killed by bacteria and viruses? Millions. So our psyche is sort of misaligned, I would say. Absoutely.
NWS: You know, the alliterative question I had for you was “are beans more dangerous than bearsBut I didn’t even think of bacteria “b” either.
SIR: Yes! You know, if you don’t cook your kidney beans, you might get an upset stomach, but abrin or ricin is unlikely to have finished you. You are unlikely to have to worry about it, but definitely deadly. I saw [a list] of common garden and house plants in the “highly lethal” category and I looked around in our garden and I think there were seven or ten there. Plants that deadly-I mean there ain’t no reason for you to swallow rhododendrons or lantana [but] there was just a startling list of deadly plants that we come across every day.
NWS: We just welcomed author Pam Houston, and she’s talked a lot about the effects of climate change on her ranch in Colorado. Since you have just traveled all over the world to tell people about their experiences in nature and with animals, I wondered: how often has climate change happened?
SIR: I didn’t ask the question because I didn’t think it was a topic, but I can tell you every time you turn the corner it’s there.
Like, talking to the bear researcher in Colorado. He explained that the hibernation periods get shorter because the climate gets warmer, and you know that for every couple of degrees Fahrenheit warmer, the black bear hibernation period is shorter by a week. So in the years to come, [that’s] a fair amount of extra time the bears will be on land, looking for food [and] come into conflict with people. So, it came over there.
It also happened in New Zealand. I was talking about those yellow eyed penguins that are endangered; they are now only a few thousand. I was interested in the role predators played in invasive species – stoats, possums, and wild cats – and the researcher said, “Well, sure, but it’s also fish. Because the fish that these birds eat, the water temperatures get warmer and these fish are more distant because they want to be in a particular water temperature.
And to get to that temperature, that colder water, they’re further out and the penguins can’t dive that deep. Their food sources are therefore affected and this affects them. And so, even when you don’t specifically seek it out or pose it, you run into them every time you are reporting on the natural world. You encounter this over and over again. It’s in everything. Just everything.
NWS: Finally, as I read the first chapter on learning to identify animal attacks as crimes, I was struck by the fact that there could be a great TV show on police procedure at this subject. Do you have a “CSI: Bear Country” pilot script somewhere in the back of your mind?
SIR: Oh my God, that’s such a good idea. I’m gonna call my TV / movie agent right away and ask him to sell this. It’s a great idea, it’s probably in the works [already] but it would certainly be interesting.
Karl Klockars is the NWS Communications Officer. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.