Tales of the Urban Wild: A Puma's Journey
“an engaging book that will give kids a feel for current issues in our natural environment and draw attention to the controversies of humans versus nature . . .”
In the wild west, over 100 years ago, a decision was made in California to create a bounty program to deal with a nuisance. Pumas/cougars/mountain lions were killing livestock and deer and threatening the livelihoods of ranchers and “civilization." The program offered a cash reward for every lion killed. It extended also to bears and wolves. Consequently, over 12,000 animals were hunted between 1906–1962. Puma hunting remained legal until 1972.
It was this mentality—eradicate the animals—with a disregard for nature, ecology, and habitat territory, that was par for the course in a country long dominated by the fear and ignorance, power and greed of our European colonizers. Wow, that’s a mouthful of “whoops, this is messed up thinking.” There must be a better way.
Tales of the Urban Wild: A Puma’s Journey goes to great lengths to demonstrate better ways to coexist with these animals, which are still, incidentally, problematic at times to humans. The mindset is shifting from total eradication of and dominance over a nuisance, to protection of a valued natural resource. It is imperative that the urban learn how to better interact with the wild.
Told in five parts, the story tracks a puma mom and her two cubs as they are reared, dispersed on their own, encounter human interventions, and continue the cycle of life. Soon after mama puma determines the youngsters are old enough to launch, one cub gets scared off by a territorial male and is forced to cross a busy highway to escape the attack. Unfortunately, he is hit by a car and does not survive. Biologists are called to the scene to collect data on the puma.
Scientists enter the story here and we follow them as they track, capture, tag and radio collar, study and release the second cub, now known as C-8 because he is the eighth cougar to be part of the study. While tracking C-8 we watch as he navigates disease, injury, close encounters with humans, and forest fire—all while just trying to find his own territory and survive.
Mixed into the story thread are naturalist sketches and journal notes which greatly embellish the nonfiction aspects of the book. They widen the scope beyond the notes of our puma friends and encompass the great world of our urban wild—which is the true protagonist. C-8 does a wonderful job showcasing the plethora of calamities our crowded cities are fraught with for our precious wildlife.
Thankfully Yap doesn’t leave us high and dry with a headful of guilt laden problems, problems, problems. She extrapolates her professional experience as an environmental scientist to illustrate what is being done to influence solutions and eradicate not the animals, but the centuries old mentality to disregard nature in favor of human and technological progress. She outlines what more can be done and why it matters that we keep studying, tweaking, and reflecting on our decisions and actions.
Yap’s writing also skillfully intermixes pathos, ethos, and logos. There’s a twinge of heart-wrenching emotion to get the pathos juices flowing and identify the issues, a good dose of the scientific method to build up ethos, and solution driven level headedness to round out the logos. It avoids being overly sappy, overly political, and overly technical.
Smith, for her part, has assembled a dizzying array of action scenes that keep the heart pounding and the pages turning. Emotionally gripping segments pair up next to intellectually stimulating facts and news items. The complex format alternates between graphic novel frames, newspaper headline collages, and scientific journal pages. There is a lot packed into this project and it can be a very tricky balance to follow. Smith’s solution to this information frenzy, was a subdued color palette. Sticking strictly to brown/sepia and gold/sunset yellow was the perfect choice, it holds the entire book together.
Tales of the Urban Wild: A Puma’s Journey is an engaging book that will give kids a feel for current issues in our natural environment and draw attention to the controversies of humans versus nature happening right in their own backyard.