Review copy was received from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Loneliest Polar Bear by Kale Williams
Narrator: Karen Murray
Published by Random House Audio on March 23, 2021
Genres: Non Fiction
Length: 7 hours and 39 minutes
Amazon, Audible, Audiobook, Barnes & Noble, iTunes
The heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of an abandoned polar bear cub named Nora and the humans working tirelessly to save her and her species, whose uncertain future in the accelerating climate crisis is closely tied to our own
Six days after giving birth, a polar bear named Aurora got up and left her den at the Columbus Zoo, leaving her tiny, squealing cub to fend for herself. Hours later, Aurora still hadn't returned. The cub was furless and blind, and with her temperature dropping dangerously, the zookeepers entrusted with her care felt they had no choice: They would have to raise one of the most dangerous predators in the world themselves, by hand. Over the next few weeks, a group of veterinarians and zookeepers would work around the clock to save the cub, whom they called Nora.
Humans rarely get as close to a polar bear as Nora's keepers got with their fuzzy charge. But the two species have long been intertwined. Three decades before Nora's birth, her father, Nanuq, was orphaned when an Inupiat hunter killed his mother, leaving Nanuq to be sent to a zoo. That hunter, Gene Agnaboogok, now faces some of the same threats as the wild bears near his Alaskan village of Wales, on the westernmost tip of the North American continent. As sea ice diminishes and temperatures creep up year-after-year, Gene and the polar bears--and everyone and everything else living in the far north--are being forced to adapt. Not all of them will succeed.
Sweeping and tender, The Loneliest Polar Bear explores the fraught relationship humans have with the natural world, the exploitative and sinister causes of the environmental mess we find ourselves in, and how the fate of polar bears is not theirs alone.
A True Story of Survival and Peril on the Edge of a Warming World
I didn’t know this book was coming out until I saw it on the list of audiobooks for possible review. Since I live near Columbus and I’m a member of The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, I’ve followed the story of polar bears at the zoo, since it was first announced they were bringing them back. Then when Nora was born, she was all the rage in Columbus. I was able to go and see her several times before she left Columbus to go to Oregon Zoo and then Utah’s Hogle Zoo. The Loneliest Polar Bear sounded like a really interesting story.
So this story follows not only Nora, a cub born at Columbus Zoo, then abandoned by her mother only to be raised by several of the staff often referred to as Nora Moms. This book also covers the story of Nora’s father, Nanuq, who was a wild born bear and orphaned and brought into human care. I loved reading more about Gene Rex Agnaboogok, an indigenous Alaskan, who fell through the ice into a polar bear den, 27 years before Nora’s birth. He had to kill the bear in order to save his own life, only to then realize there were two cubs in the den.
This story really pulls together the complexity of the world and the animal kingdom and human’s role in it. We don’t just hear about the plight of this one adorable cub and the people trying to save her life. We also get the life of the man and community that saved Nora’s father and ultimately put him and his sister into human care. We also get the story of climate change (yes there is some science in the book, but it is easy to understand for laymen like myself). We also get the story of zoos (the good and the bad, because less face it, as much as I love zoos of today, they don’t have a great history). The story also goes into all the conservation that zoos help. They even go into a bear that was supposed to be a companion for Nora, Tasul, who helped with research hi-tech collars which would be much harder with wild bears.
The Loneliest Polar Bear was way more than I expected. I thought I was going to get some back story on Nora and Mr. Agnaboogok. I didn’t realize how much more would be included. I think hearing about a coastal town that is truly feeling first hand issues with the planet warming (their town is literally falling into the sea) is a great addition to this story. I also think how they talk about how zoos came to be and how bad they were at one point in time. Seeing them change over time and seeing the amount of effort put into caring for these animals (not only those in zoos, but also how those same staff members go out into native areas to help the wild cousins). How zoos are not just exhibiting animals for people to see them, but how they try to connect people with the plight of most of these animals in their native ranges. And how these animals can work to help researchers learn about the animals in the wild and what can be done to help save them.
It really is hard for me to put my feelings down, because there are so many. So, much is covered and it all comes together so well. It really had me in awe, and I knew a lot of the story already. I really hope that this story and others like it, will help these animals and the planet as a whole.
The narration of this audiobook was very well done. Unlike many fiction books, Karen Murray doesn’t voice the different people in the story. She just tells the story as written. But you do hear empathy and compassion as the story goes on. She does put “heart” into the story which I feel really helps to bring the story to life. I would listen to hear with future stories.
Listen to a clip: