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Wired Wilderness

Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife

Etienne Benson

Publication Year: 2010

American wildlife biologists first began fitting animals with radio transmitters in the 1950s. By the 1980s the practice had proven so useful to scientists and nonscientists alike that it became global. Wired Wilderness is the first book-length study of the origin, evolution, use, and impact of these now-commonplace tracking technologies. Combining approaches from environmental history, the history of science and technology, animal studies, and the cultural and political history of the United States, Etienne Benson traces the radio tracking of wild animals across a wide range of institutions, regions, and species and in a variety of contexts. He explains how hunters, animal-rights activists, and other conservation-minded groups gradually turned tagging from a tool for control into a conduit for connection with wildlife. Drawing on extensive archival research, interviews with wildlife biologists and engineers, and in-depth case studies of specific conservation issues—such as the management of deer, grouse, and other game animals in the upper Midwest and the conservation of tigers and rhinoceroses in Nepal—Benson illuminates telemetry's context-dependent uses and meanings as well as commonalities among tagging practices. Wired Wilderness traces the evolution of the modern wildlife biologist’s field practices and shows how the intense interest of nonscientists at once constrained and benefited the field. Scholars of and researchers involved in wildlife management will find this history both fascinating and revealing.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Animals, History, Culture

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pp. vii-ix | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.952

Most of the research for this book was completed while I was a student in MIT’s Doctoral Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society. During that period and since, Harriet Ritvo has been a thoughtful, rigorous, and generous advisor and friend. Her scholarship on human-animal relationships profoundly shaped this book, as it has many others.

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Introduction: Knowing the Wild

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pp. 1-4 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.953

Many Americans in the second half of the twentieth century were fascinated with wild animals. They watched wildlife films and television shows, visited zoos, aquariums, and amusement parks with performing wild animals, donated money to organizations working to “save” baby seals, whales, pandas, tigers, and other charismatic creatures, and gave their support to politicians...

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1 Cold War Game

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pp. 5-51 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.954

In search of new methods of locating, tracking, and identifying individual wild animals in their natural habitats, wildlife biologists in the 1950s looked to the electronic technologies of the Cold War and the space age. The recent invention of the transistor had made it possible to build, for the first time, radio transmitters small enough...

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2 The Poetry of Wilderness

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pp. 52-92 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.955

Despite a brief flourishing of scientific research in the American national parks in the 1930s, the National Park Service’s interest in science had never been strong. As late as the 1950s, for example, the iconic grizzly bears of Yellowstone or Mount McKinley had not yet been subjected to systematic study.

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3 Diplomatic and Political Subtleties

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pp. 92-138 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.956

In the 1960s, Indian biologists such as E. P. Gee and Sálim Ali began to warn that the country’s population of tigers would soon be extinct if habitat loss and hunting continued at their present rates. By the end of the decade they were joined by a number of European and American conservationists, including S. Dillon Ripley,...

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4 The Regulatory Leviathan

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pp. 139-188 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.957

While radio tags had been successfully deployed on a variety of species of birds and terrestrial animals by the mid-1960s, the use of the technique to study marine animals lagged far behind. The technical and logistical challenges of radio tagging marine mammals, sea turtles, and fishes were daunting: the animals often lived in harsh and inaccessible environments;...

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Conclusion: New Connections

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pp. 189-193 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.958

From the 1960s to the 1990s, disputes over wildlife radiotelemetry often pitted scientists against wilderness activists, animal protectionists, and others claiming to speak for animals and for the public. At the end of the twentieth century, radio tracking also became a means for wildlife biologists to establish connections between the animals they studied and the mass audiences whose support was necessary for effective conservation.


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pp. 195-197 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.959


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pp. 199-236 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.960

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 237-242 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.961

The technical development of wildlife radiotelemetry in the 1960s can be tracked through two periodicals: the Journal of Wildlife Management, which is widely available, and the Wildlife Society’s Wildlife Telemetry Newsletter (1961–1967), which can be found in the library of the University of Minnesota and a few other locations. The proceedings of the 1962 biotelemetry conference at the…


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pp. 243-251 | DOI: 10.1353/chapter.962

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899287
E-ISBN-10: 0801899281
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801897108
Print-ISBN-10: 0801897106

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 15 halftones, 1 line drawing
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Animals, History, Culture