"There are no owls," he started to say

🦇 Bat Eschner's spooky newsletter about animal-human relationships Vol. 3 Iss. 12 🦇

This week’s issue of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Until recently, I only knew this Philip K. Dick novel was (sort of) the basis of the Bladerunner universe of androids and humans.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that reckoning mass extinction is the primary driver of the world that the book is set up in. You’ll find an excerpt from the book lower down, but for now, let me just wholly endorse reading it. It has all the sexism and other not-so-hidden bias of midcentury North American sci-fi, of course, but there’s something to it that I can’t shake. I was surprised to learn that people think Dick was a bad writer–for this book, at least, his style was perfect.

Oh, and–if you like this newsletter, please consider subscribing or buying a coffee.

The Sasquatch might not make it

Who’s going to survive climate change? This piece in The Outline by Andrew Paul takes a ridiculous question–will cryptids make it through climate change?–and follows it, wherever it leads. It’s just a really really nice piece of science writing.

Extra credit: One cryptid who doesn’t appear in Paul’s piece, which I grew up calling the Ogopogo but is more properly called the Naitaka, is definitely at risk. It’s a giant creature said to dwell in the Okanagan Lake. Its valley is suffering a historic drought year right now and is on track to see profound changes due to climate change.

What cryptids did you grow up with? I’d love to get emails, tweets, or comments about this.

One time a rotting whale carcass got hauled around the UK

We’re not talking about Boris Johnson’s summer tour. In 1883, writes Jessica Leigh Hester for Atlas Obscura, a combination of avarice, spectatorship and scientific curiousity made possible a ridiculous and smelly grand tour. This story is ridiculous and dumb and *so* Victorian.

In the winter of 1883, the Scottish city of Dundee was a good place for an enterprising showman, a frustrating place for a comparative anatomist, and a truly terrible place for a wayward humpback whale. That season, and for months after, a deep-pocketed oil merchant hauled a massive cetacean carcass across the United Kingdom and charged bystanders for an up-close glimpse, while a curious scientist named John Struthers did his best to tune out the crowds, the cameras, and the tooting band, and learn something.

The birds are going to take some losses

If climate change isn’t slowed down, we’re going to lose a lot of birds: that is the conclusion of the Audubon Society’s new climate report. This “field guide to the future” looks bleak, writes Hannah Waters for the editorially independent Audubon.org. Scroll down to read her piece: the top has a big block of bird names, but there’s an amazing story below.

GIF: The Snowy Owl, pictured above, is classified as “climate vulnerable” in the Audubon report. (Credit: National Geographic WILD)

A powerful corporation, he realized, would of course be able to afford this. In the back of his mind, evidently, he had anticipated such a collection; it was not surprise that he felt but more a sort of yearning. He quietly walked away from the girl, toward the closest pen. Already he could smell them, the several scents of the creatures standing or sitting, or, in the case of what appeared to be a raccoon, asleep.

Never in his life had he personally seen a raccoon. He knew the animal only from 3-D films shown on television. For some reason the dust had struck that species almost as hard as it had the birds — of which almost none survived, now. In an automatic response he brought out his much — thumbed Sidney's and looked up raccoon with all the sublistings. The list prices, naturally, appeared in italics; like Percheron horses, none existed on the market for sale at any figure. Sidney's catalogue simply listed the price at which the last transaction involving a raccoon had taken place. It was astronomical.

"His name is Bill," the girl said from behind him. "Bill the raccoon. We acquired him just last year from a subsidiary corporation." She pointed past him and he then perceived the armed company guards, standing with their machine guns, the rapid-fire little light Skoda issue; the eyes of the guards had been fastened on him since his car landed. And, he thought, my car is clearly marked as a police vehicle.

"A major manufacturer of androids," he said thoughtfully, "invests its surplus capital on living animals."

"Look at the owl," Rachael Rosen said. "Here, I'll wake it up for you." She started toward a small, distant cage, in the center of which jutted up a branching dead tree.

There are no owls, he started to say. Or so we've been told. Sidney's, he thought; they list it in their catalogue as extinct: the tiny, precise type, the E, again and again throughout the catalogue. As the girl walked ahead of him he checked to see, and he was right. Sidney's never makes a mistake, he said to himself. We know that, too. What else can we depend on?

"It's artificial," he said, with sudden realization; his disappointment welled up keen and intense.

"No." She smiled and he saw that she had small even teeth, as white as her eyes and hair were black.

"But Sidney's listing," he said, trying to show her the catalogue. To prove it to her.

The girl said, "We don't buy from Sidney's or from any animal dealer. All our purchases are from private parties and the prices we pay aren't reported." She added, "Also we have our own naturalists; they're now working up in Canada. There's still a good deal of forest left, comparatively speaking, anyhow. Enough for small animals and once in a while a bird."

For a long time he stood gazing at the owl, who dozed on its perch. A thousand thoughts came into his mind, thoughts about the war, about the days when owls had fallen from the sky; he remembered how in his childhood it had been discovered that species upon species had become extinct and how the 'papes had reported it each day — foxes one morning, badgers the next, until people had stopped reading the perpetual animal obits.

Philip K. Dick, from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Extra credit

More things I read this week.

  1. The Amazon: a reservoir of frog death (Inverse, Peter Hess) 

  2. A non-mysterious blob (Popular Science, Rachel Feltman)

  3. World’s first plant selfie (The Print, Sandhya Ramesh)

  4. People keep insisting they’ve seen the Tasmanian tiger (ABC News, Julia Jacobo)

  5. SEVEN inflatable rats named Scabby (Philadelphia Inquirer, David Murrell)

Please read me

My most recent work.

  1. I was on The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week!

Questions? Comments? Compliments? Complaints? Contact me at my email or on Twitter. If you enjoy this newsletter and would like to tip me, I am on Ko-fi.

CREATURE FEATURE is edited by Tracey Lindeman.

All images in CREATURE FEATURE are used under Creative Commons licensing. Efforts have been made to ensure that photographs of living animals or natural scenes have been taken ethically, in responsible pet ownership conditions, at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums or under safe, non-damaging conditions in the wild. If you see an issue with any image we share, please notify me.