The Blakiston’s fish owl is the world’s largest living species of owl, with larger females of the species weighing as much as ten pounds. It lives in the Russian Far East and Northern Japan. It is also endangered: global populations are estimated to be around 1500 owls in total.
The story of one conservationist’s efforts to save these owls is told in Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 2020), the first book by Jonathan Slaght. The book traces Jonathan’s many trips to the territory of Primorye in the Russian Far East, as part of his research into where the fish owls live and hunt. In the dead of the Russian winter, Jonathan and his Russian compatriots survey the forests, listen for fish owl duets, investigate nests and capture owls in an attempt to learn more about these creatures.
Jonathan Slaght is the Russia and Northeast Asia coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, where he manages research projects on endangered species and coordinates avian conservation activities along the East Asia–Australasian Flyway from the Arctic to the tropics. You can follow him on Twitter at @JonathanSlaght.
Owls of the Eastern Ice has won widespread acclaim, including being longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
In this interview, Joanthan and I discuss his research project, and how he turned it into a book. We also delve a little deeper into the ways we think about conservation, and what else needs to be done.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He is also a print and broadcast commentator on local and regional politics. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.
Nicholas Gordon is a reviewer for the Asian Review of Books. In his day job, he’s a researcher and writer for a think tank in economic and sustainable development. He can be found on Twitter at @nickrigordon.