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 by Jonathan Slaght. The book traces Slaght’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 colleagues survey the forests, listen for fish owl duets, investigate nests and capture owls in an attempt to learn more about these creatures.
Owls of the Eastern Ice has won widespread acclaim, including being longlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction and being named one of the New York Times 100 most notable books of 2020.
In this interview, Slaght and podcast Nicholas Gordon discuss his research project, and how he turned it into a book. They delve a little deeper into what the book suggests about how we work to protect endangered populations.
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.
Nicholas Gordon has an MPhil from Oxford in International Relations and a BA from Harvard. He works at a think tank in Hong Kong. His writing has also appeared in The South China Morning Post, The Diplomat, China Daily and Caixin.