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February 22, 2021
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The 'Internet of Animals'

A few years ago, I started following science journalist Sonia Shah, whose book "Pandemic" came out in 2016. She’d written "The Fever" in 2010 about Malaria, and I found her reporting and descriptions alarming but fascinating. Shah recently tweeted that at the time "Pandemic" came out, "most people read it as provocative science fiction." Count me as one of her readers who thought it was futuristic and that I’d have plenty of time to eventually ask her for an interview on how viruses spread, maybe when there was a particular news hook. You all know what happened next.

So when Shah’s latest book came out, "The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move" in 2020, I wanted to talk to her right away. My interview with her is in this week’s repeat of "The Mysteries of Migration." It turns out the way animals, humans, and even microbes and viruses migrate have elements in common.

If you want to read more of Shah’s work, last month she had an interactive piece in The New York Times Magazine, "Animal Planet," that shows how a new technological system will track animal species from outer space. The data collected is part of the ICARUS Project, the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space. Again, sounds like science fiction, but this is expected to give us very real and entirely new insight into how thousands of animals move, which in turn will tell us more about habitats, changing ecologies, and how disease spreads. An example she gives is radio tracing orchid bees in Panama.

In Shah’s story, ICARUS founder and biologist Martin Wikelski, managing director of the Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany, calls it the "Internet of Animals."

I’m intrigued, and hoping that might be the subject of Shah’s next book.



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The Serengeti's Great Migration, Up Close

We came over one hill and saw hundreds of zebras.

Imagine driving over a hill and suddenly seeing hundreds of zebras. Or watching a thousand of wildebeest walking single-file as far as you can see. Anne and Steve were lucky enough to witness this spectacle in the Serengeti, where each year animals trek hundreds of miles across Tanzania and Kenya. They talk with their expert guide and naturalist, Moses Augustino Kumburu, founder of Moak Safaris, about the Great Migration.

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Why Do Animals Migrate?

 A herd of topi.

The fact that so many animals migrate — sometimes thousands of miles — has puzzled people over the ages. Why do they take such risky journeys? Conservation biologist David Wilcove studies migration, and he says the scale of migration is staggering.

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Learning To Believe In Monogamy

Still from "Talking about Adultery" with a woman's exposed garter.

Bara Jichova Tyson assumed that pretty much everyone is a liar and a cheat when she set out to make a documentary about love and relationships. Growing up in Czechoslovakia while it was a satellite state of the Soviet Union, she experienced distrust all around her.

Speaking to Charles Monroe-Kane for "To the Best of Our Knowledge," she said Communist rule, which had neighbors and relatives spying on each other, seemed to train everyone around her that no one was to be trusted. 

"You don't trust your partner, and you don't trust your parents, and your parents don't trust their friends. And it's just kind of the climate of every relationship you experience," said Tyson. "I don't think you can build a good marriage on that. Or friendship."

Seeing this dynamic around her growing up left Tyson with a pretty negative view of marriage.

"So you entered marriage and you just hate the person by the time you are 30, and they hate you back," said Tyson. "I think this experience of your history or your past, you bring into your relationships — doesn't matter where you live."

It was that cynical view toward romance that eventually led Tyson to the idea of a film about love and relationships that focused on adultery. The resulting film, "Talking About Adultery," started as her examination of why people cheat, but became something else entirely as something unexpected happened — she fell in love herself. A chance encounter on a dating site during production blossomed into a relationship, and eventually marriage.

"This relationship transformed my idea of what love or trust can be. I was always experiencing relationships that started like fireworks and went downhill a little bit later," she said. "And this wasn't like that. But I have a whole lifetime of experiences, and he did, too. We didn't know how it was going to go."

Beyond making for a good story within the film — she and her now husband are portrayed as characters — her experience changed her view of monogamy, of marriage, and ultimately, of trust. 

Tyson shares with Monroe-Kane what she learned in the course of making the film.

These interview highlights have been edited for clarity and length.

On Betrayal And Adultery

It's about so many other things, like who you really are. And what is your point of view on the world and yourself and the relationship and other people? 

I think that adultery, it's such a loaded subject. If it happens in a relationship, it's a real tragedy. But I think betrayal can happen in any kind of part of your relationship — you can betray yourself, or you can betray the other person.

Why Does Sex Make A Difference?

When I was in (a relationship with a married man), it was kind of a friendship with sex, like a bonus part. And he loved his wife and he had his family. In the beginning, I wondered, "Why is this not possible?" The marriage is something separate from the other relationship, like a secret relationship between two lovers.

I feel like there is one way to be philosophical about it and have your theory, and then it happens to you. And I think that's a very different feeling. And it's like a more gut feeling, not (a) very intellectual endeavor.

I just thought, "Why do we care? Why are we getting so hurt by the fact that you enter somebody else's body or somebody else enters yours?"

What Do You Do With Shame?

Because society and previous generations impose that marriage is a monogamous institution, maybe you feel shame because of that. Would you feel shame if you were allowed to have multiple partners? I don't know. Maybe you feel shame because you are a liar.

On Believing in Monogamy

When I started making this film, I didn't really believe in monogamy, but again, I come from the Czech Republic. And I think the relationship between men and women is a little different there. So my starting point was, "OK, if everybody cheats, how can you have a good relationship?" 

I don't think that anymore. I feel like you are attracted to other people throughout your life. Almost everybody probably is. But if you act on it or not, I think it's a choice, and you can make that choice. I think you have time to think about that choice, and if you have a good partner or somebody you really value and they are important to you, you can hopefully talk about it.

What is Love?

Love is, to me, trust — 100 percent, not 90 percent. You don’t keep your little backdoor open. I feel like I didn’t have that before. I hope I have that now.

Is There More To Say About Adultery?

At some point, I stopped being as interested in the subject. I was kind of bored with it. It had run its course on me, and I just felt like I emptied the subject for myself. But I don't think it's a subject that can really be emptied. 

We can have ten filmmakers making this film and each film will be totally different.

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