Book review of The Internet of Animals by Martin Wikelski

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The Internet of Animals: Discovering the Collective Intelligence of Life on Earth is a bonkers, delightful read if you are interested in any of the following: space and satellites, animal migration and behavior, analog versus digital technology, and the many complications that come from following through on the whiff of a very good idea.

Scientist Martin Wikelski had such an idea decades ago: Tag large numbers of animals and track them digitally via satellite. He envisioned a global community of animal researchers all pursuing projects using the same satellite and tracking technology, and making some portion of the reams of resulting data public. In a moment of either brilliance or dark insight into the troubles ahead, he dubbed the project ICARUS: International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. From the beginning, this was a project that aimed to fly near the sun and see the world anew.

But like the mythic story of Icarus, there were unforeseen complications: identifying the technology needed to create a satellite, fine-tuning the technology needed to tag the animals effectively, and finding global collaborators. This story of scientific advancement is also, like so many others, tied up in cultural differences, funding, politicking and geopolitics. A project that Wikelski thought would take only a few years has taken decades, and it’s still unfolding. Still, his good idea remains as captivating as ever.

Wikelski probes the mysteries of the animal world and shares vivid anecdotes of field research, from unusually sociable rice rats in the Galapagos Islands, to a wandering egret who made friends with a family in Bavaria (when he was supposed to be migrating to a different continent). Wikelski situates these stories within the big questions about animals and how they live on Earth—what they know innately and what they could tell us, if they only had a way. He convincingly argues that these questions should animate us all, and his vision of creating a way for animals to communicate what they are remains a vital, galvanizing example of how human ingenuity and persistence can make a difference in how we understand the world around us.

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