“What if every single human being chose one threatened animal or insect or bird or fish and decided to save it? I think the world would look completely different if we did that,” said Maja Lunde in a recent episode of HN Reads: The Podcast.
The characters in her 2022 novel, The Last Wild Horses, do just that for the Takhi or Mongolian wild horses.
Mikhail, a zoologist in 1880s Russia, leaves his comfortable middle-class life in Saint Petersburg to travel to Mongolia to capture the fabled Przewalski horse. In 1992, Karin, a German veterinarian, risks everything to re-introduce the breed back into their wild habitat after they had been hunted to near extinction a hundred years early. Her story is loosely based on actual events in the 1990s. Then there is Eva, a zookeeper in 2064 Norway, who has survived the climate collapse and fights tooth and nail to keep the last two known Takhis alive.
The novel is immersive and hard to put down, but it isn’t light reading. The future sections are a bit too close for comfort, and Lunde doesn’t spare us the brutal truths of capturing wild animals and later reintroducing their descendants. Still, it was this idea of love that I kept coming back to long after the interview ended.
It reminded me of the incredible determination of equestrians, how love bordering on obsession drives many of us make sacrifices and take risks that we probably wouldn’t otherwise. It’s also the driving force behind organizations like The Equine Land Conservation Resource that works to protect horses and the planet by preserving land for equestrian use.
As I ponder these ideas, I also think of how little the college students I teach know about the natural world outside their door. When I talk about the tinkling sound of pancake ice on Lake Michigan in January or how the Sandhill Crane was saved from extinction in their own state, many look at me and say, “Really? Here?”
What could we do if we noticed or even loved other living things more? I don’t have an answer, but perhaps Lunde is correct—the world would certainly be different if we did.