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On Endangered Tracks

Jul 10. 13

-- By Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun -- 

Langara biology instructor Cameron MacDonald decided to take his family on a 25,000-kilometre, 114-day road trip with a mission - he wanted to see if they could track down 34 endangered species. So MacDonald and his wife, Briana Fraser, and two very young children, Brora and Finn, packed into a used minivan and headed out into the wilds of North America.

The family passed through 28 American states and seven provinces as they made their way first south, then southeast, then north and west again, looping through Florida at their furthest point.

In a kind of Amazing Race scavenger hunt for endangered species, the family managed to find 27 of the original 34 endangered animals and plants, as well as a few other rare critters along the way.

The book is extremely readable, well-written and quite humorous at times. MacDonald - who is, after all, a scientist - includes lots of relevant scientific information, but also includes tales of somewhat awkward family reunions, very human nightmares and fears about bears, an annoying case of poison oak, the nasty experience of finding a tick on his daughter's cheek and other anecdotes that bring the story alive.

MacDonald writes a lot about his somewhat conflicted views on global warming, eating organic and his own contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, on the subject of global warming, he writes that he is certain human beings are affecting the Earth's climate, but he's not at all certain that humans can predict what that will mean in terms of the weather.

He's honest about the ironies of modern life: for example, eating fish because it's supposed to be healthy, but then finding out the fish he has just eaten is endangered.

He writes about the potential for eco-fraud in carbon offsets, as well as the risk that the idea one can offset their carbon usage might falsely justify more consumption.

He writes about how difficult it is to find organic vegetables or milk in middle America, but adds that his Scottish heritage conflicts with his intention to eat an organic diet.

But in the end, this book is about the animals. MacDonald was inspired to take the road trip by his students who kept asking him if he'd ever seen a polar bear or a ferret. He writes that the California condor was the animal he most wanted to see because they are the most likely to become extinct in the near future, but also because they are genetically unique.

MacDonald has written an enjoyable, informative and unique book that explores the continent of North America through the perspective of a modern family. While they are often on the hunt for good coffee and suffer incredibly when the air conditioning doesn't work, they also rough it camping through much of the trip and obviously care deeply about the flora and fauna.

By the end of it all, MacDonald writes that he is "moderately hopeful" about the state of wildlife in North America and notes that most of the species' populations are in better shape than they were 40 years ago.

Read Original Story in the Vancouver Sun

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