Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Most zoologists would be thrilled to find an animal species yet unknown to science—but Kim Howell’s 1996 discovery of a rare toad in Tanzania has turned out to be a mixed blessing, since it lived near a river waterfall that was slated to be dammed for hydropower. In a gripping conservation tale called simply “The Toad,” Guernica recounts Howell’s discovery and the ensuing conflict it has brought—to him, to Tanzania, and to the beleaguered amphibian at the center of the fight:
In plot turns that recall an outrageous T.C. Boyle story but are in fact true, author Maura R. O’Connor describes an elaborate artificial spray system set up to mist the wild toads’ habitat after the dam was built; an airlift in which 500 toads were flown, in boxes lined with foil and wet paper towels, to a captive breeding program at the Bronx Zoo; and the wild toads’ subsequent extinction, probably from a fungus that has endangered amphibians worldwide. Now scientists are considering reintroducing the Kihansi spray toad to its native gorge at great cost—and with great uncertainty.
Ultimately, story prods us to ask hard questions. How far should we go in attempting to save endangered species? Is an animal removed from its native habitat really “saved”? One ethicist lays out some of the terrain to O’Connor:
Image by Julie Larsen Maher © Wildlife Conservation Society.