Blaine author and former journalist Rick Wood released his latest book November 9 that chronicles an around-the-world journey to answer one burning question: Why do humans poach animals?
The Human Snare is a 97-page nonfiction graphic novel, both written and illustrated by the self-published author. It follows Wood’s solo travels from 2017 to 2019 in Tanzania, China, Yellowstone National Park and then Costa Rica to understand animal trade.
“It’s the human snare,” Wood said. “It’s their connection to these ideas of animal trafficking and poaching, which happen all around the world. There are no human beings on this planet that are exempt from the issues of poaching and animal trafficking because we’re all touched by it.”
It all started while working on his film “Deconstructing Eden” between 2015 and 2016 in Florida. Wood said he saw two sea otters killed and realized the incident wasn’t an anomaly, but that it had a large effect on a small mammal population and their habitat.
Then, in 2015, the death of Cecil, a well-known lion poached by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe, made international headlines and created conversation on animal trade.
“I started to see it as more and more of an issue to look at animals as a commodity, that’s really what made me think this is something we need to talk about,” he said. “Not just animals that we eat for food or animals for agriculture or pets, but how the illegal animal trade really adversely affects the biodiversity of species that are already on the brink of extinction.”
Wood started writing the book in 2016, right after finishing his previous book, Rough Cut: Lessons from an Endangered Species. He realized if poaching didn’t change immediately, repercussions would be felt in as short as 10 years. “I’m not getting any younger. There’s no reason to put it off. I immediately jumped into it feet first,” he said.
Tanzania was the beginning of the four-country journey, and the apex.
Wood traveled to Tanzania for 22 days in February 2017, and within five days of his trip said he felt foolish for previously questioning if poachers could be good people.
Wood met a poacher in a rice field outside Moshi, Tanzania, who worked in the field and had a side job of hunting meat from the forests and savannas.
“This poacher in no way was an evil person, he was a very poor person,” Wood said. “He had no other occupation so the bush meat he acquired fed his family and kept his family alive in a literal sense.”
Wood spent most of his time volunteering with children who were orphaned from the AIDS epidemic and at an animal rescue group outside Moshi.
His next adventure led him along a 13-day journey in September 2017 through China, where Wood wanted to visit wet markets and help rehabilitate pandas. During this trip, he also met with ivory carvers before the country made ivory trade illegal in 2018.
“I knew from my research that the Chinese, although they get the brunt of the accusation of being responsible for the ivory trade, we forget that the United States is actually the second-largest consumer of illegal ivory in the world,” Wood said. “That puts us in an area of responsibility for elephant poaching that we might not normally associate the United States with but we play an integral part.”
Wood visited Yellowstone National Park for three days in October 2018 before heading to Costa Rica. The 12-day trip in Costa Rica ended the two-year journey in April 2019.
Wood said he chose Costa Rica to learn how it became a world leader in conservation. Costa Rican conservation, coupled with efforts he’d seen in Tanzania and China, gave him hope that there are nearly the same amount of people trying to save animals as there are people trafficking them.
“It left me with a wonderful rejuvenation of my outlook,” Wood said. “There are so many heroes working in so many countries, not just in Costa Rica.
For five days after its release, the book topped Amazon’s charts in the endangered species category, Wood said.
“I want it to grow as much as possible from people that take a look at it, that find the value in it, they find something interesting about it, and then encourage their friends or family to pick it up,” Wood said.
Wood said he chose to format his story as a graphic novel to appeal to a younger audience, while also allowing readers to learn from different senses.
“I always wanted to see The Human Snare end up in classrooms,” he said. “It’s an amazing tool for students of any age to dive into subject matter that is normally shied away from because it’s a sad thing or it’s a deep issue.”
Wood said he believes most literature on poaching comes in dense books that are harder for younger people to digest. Focusing on science and statistics doesn’t create the best segue for students to explore their own questions, he said.
“The Human Snare, at the end of it, isn’t going to give you all those answers you’re looking for. I didn’t find all the answers,” Wood said. “I found a heck of a lot more questions than I found answers out there.”
The book is free with Kindle Unlimited or a paperback version costs $14.99 on Amazon.