Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Keeping It Wild

Every morning I take a walk around the yard, assessing the gardens and nearby small wooded section to see how they are faring from the lack of rain and heat.  Yesterday as I passed a large tree, I looked from a particular plant to the tree's bark and a squirrel and I were eye-to-eye.  We both watched the other as still as stone.  Normally I would have expected instant flight but this one looked at me as if ready to speak.

It's not uncommon to see squirrels, rabbits, birds, butterflies and a large variety of bugs in my yard but even in many walks taken in the woods of northern Michigan over decades, I've never encountered a bear, wolf or even a coyote with their reported increased numbers.  My thinking began, as it often does after a close wildlife meeting, to focus on all the places on our planet where seeing animals in their natural habitat will become less and less frequent.  The Great Leopard Rescue: Saving the Amur Leopards (Millbrook Press, August 2016) written by Sandra Markle addresses the very serious issue of the fight to save a rare animal from extinction. 

In the fading light of an autumn day, a young male Amur leopard picks his way over a rocky ridge and sets off on his nighttime hunt.

In this first sentence in the first of seven chapters we follow this leopard as he attempts to locate food.  We learn vital information about his hunting practices, first two years of life and how he establishes his range.  Then he finds himself fleeing from a large fire.

Amur leopards make their home in the far eastern portion of Russia.  It's astounding to think that their numbers have dropped from 2,400 to about fifty since the 1950s.  Let's think about that number for a minute.  There are only about fifty of these animals left in the wild before they are gone forever.  (It was actually estimated to drop to thirty in 2007.)

The loss of habitat and food due to logging, farming and hunting greatly diminished the Amur leopard numbers.  They need the taiga with its specific flora and fauna to survive.  Of the three areas where they were living prior to the 1980s, the population completely vanished in two.  

Concern for their lives has prompted responses.  Zoos are no longer taking these leopards from the wild but are sharing leopards, carefully monitoring breeding, scientists are studying them through the use of radio collars and a team (Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance) has been formed to deter poaching and work with farmers.  In 2012 a special area, Land of the Leopard National Park, was set aside for them.  

Since 2012 an even greater effort and fascinating plan are unfolding.  It will be 2020 before the results can be realized.  A carefully selected and designed space, a meticulously controlled and ongoing study (You won't believe how they use dogs.), a first-time collaboration between Russian and Chinese scientists, and a specialized breeding program are all key components. 

Remember the young male leopard trapped by fire in the first chapter?  You will discover his fate.  There are those working on a daily basis for the Amur leopards.

In the first chapter Sandra Markle creates a feeling of urgency; every single leopard's life is valuable.  From this defining moment, through painstaking research, she gives readers a clear picture of the reasons for the population decline and the determined efforts to resolve the problem.  There is an informed narrative paired with factual specifics, most very short but other lengthier paragraphs, which are apart from it.  Captioned photographs and maps supply further understanding.  

Within this narrative Markle includes dates, particular names and specific activities of high interest which intensifies the plight of the Amur leopards and the challenges of saving them.  Her writing style reads like a tightly-woven, white-knuckle adventure.  Here is a sample passage.

The Land of the Leopard National Park covers about 647,000 acres (261,832 hectares), about the size of the state of Rhode Island.  People can visit the park, but it's illegal to farm, hunt, mine, or harvest lumber on the parkland.

With the protected park established, the number of Amur leopards increased slightly in new surveys following the 2007 all-time low.  But scientists around the world remained worried.  A catastrophe such as a disease could still wipe them out.

Big paws help this cat to be sure-footed in the rugged taiga.  And its long tail is perfect for helping it stay balanced.

The Great Leopard Rescue: Saving the Amur Leopards written by Sandra Markle is a stellar work of nonfiction recommended for personal and professional shelves.  Her meticulous research and writing style make for engaged reading from beginning to end.  The layout and design of this book, rounded rectangles housing the text, attached from page turn to page turn with thick lines, placed among, over and under, to the left and right of exquisite photographs enhances the pace.  At the close of the book is an Author's Note, Did You Know?(short facts about Amur leopards), Timeline, Glossary, Source Notes, Find Out Here (books and websites), Index and Acknowledgments.  

To learn more about Sandra Markle, her other work and activities please visit her official blog by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view fourteen interior pages.

UPDATE:  Sandra Markle has created a post about her research for this title March 19, 2017   

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy maintained by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. LOVE Sandra Markle's books! Her bat book is one of my favorites. So well done & such great photos!

    1. If you love Sandra Markle books, you are going to love this one, Maria. I'm still thinking about it.