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Animals at the EDGE: Saving the World’s Rarest Creatures

by Jonathan Baillie and Marilyn Baillie

The animal on the cover of Animals at the EDGE looks like something dreamed up by Disney – a mouse-like critter with button eyes, a bright pink nose, tiny perfect feet, and impossibly large ears. We learn later that it is actually a long-eared jerboa, an elusive resident of the Mongolian desert.

The jerboa is one of 11 strange-yet-appealing animals featured in the book, along with the slender loris, aye aye, and bumblebee bat. All have been targeted by a conservation effort by the London Zoological Society called the EDGE project (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered). Co-authors Marilyn and Jonathan Baillie, a mother-son team, provide marvellous photographs and descriptions that help bring the creatures to life. The text is choppy in places, but the high-interest subject matter and lively layouts more than compensate for this.

Quirky animals and fabulous photography aside, what sets this book apart most is its tone. Instead of pummeling young readers with lists of “What you can do to help” (as if a 10-year-old can save an animal from extinction), the authors focus on encouraging a genuine interest in the creatures themselves, and on introducing real-life role models. For every animal featured, there is a photograph of a young, enthusiastic researcher, a first-person account of what inspired them to study that creature, and notes describing actions they are taking to preserve the species.

The book also includes “field notes” for three of the scientists. These read like mystery/adventure stories, complete with ingenious traps, leech-infested forests, and journeys through trackless deserts. The effect is to get the reader excited about science, and the hope it offers for the future.