Conservationist Joel Berger lives in the extreme. That’s the best word to describe his travels, and what he does. He goes to extreme environments — not any of the usual tourist destinations — to study how animals there adapt. These places are hot and cold deserts, for example, the uppermost regions of the tallest of mountains, and the highest latitudes, including, as he put it, “the top of the world.” He has made at least 33 expeditions, 19 of them to the Arctic (“from Alaska to Russia and Greenland to Svalbard”) as well as others to Mongolia, the Himalayas, and the Tibetan Plateau. Most recently, he spent the last two austral winters just off the Patagonia Ice Cap studying “a magical little known deer” called a huemul, Chile’s national mammal.
“I like offering my soul to a cause and animals are it, given their silent voices,” he said. “Animals have massive societal influence in general, but much of this emanates from urban realms, whereas the challenges — and, importantly, opportunities — to maintaining species and functioning ecosystems emanate chiefly from rural and remote regions with attendant low human densities. I think I was attracted to this field because I found animals less stilted then humans.”