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Barbara J. King

In Mombasa on the coast of Kenya is a place called Haller Park. People flock there to see 180 indigenous species of plants and trees, and a variety of animals including hippos and giraffes.

A more accurate title for Susan Orlean's collection of essays On Animals might be On Animals Used Or Exploited by Humans.

Born and raised in rural Alabama, a resident of Nashville, Tennessee for almost 35 years, Margaret Renkl loves the South. She revels in its glorious art and music, its rich ecology and stunning natural beauty.

In an isolated mountain valley in Montana, Catherine Raven and a wild red fox meet, take each other's measure, and gradually become friends.

This summary of Raven's nature memoir may seem to hint at a simple story. On the contrary, Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship is a multi-layered exploration of a world in which humans honor rather than dominate nature.

We humans have been evolving for millions of years and — as any good biologist will tell you — in response to pressures in our environment, we are evolving still.

So how come our bodies are so flawed? Why does sharp vision so often elude us, for instance? Why do our backs hurt so frequently?

The theme of transformation is central to Abigail Tucker's Mom Genes.

When women give birth and become mothers, writes Tucker, who is a science writer and mother of four, they "rebuilt from the ground up" as they undergo a "radical self-revision" that involves "a monomaniacal focus" on the baby.

Around the corner from where I live in small-town Virginia is a Kroger's grocery store. According to its website, the store sells 20 flavors of Lay's potato chips: classic, wavy, wavy ranch, baked, barbecue, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, lightly salted, cheddar and sour cream, limon-flavored, honey barbecue, sweet southern heat, dill pickle, flamin' hot, flamin' hot and dill pickle, cheddar jalapeno, jalapeno ranch, lime and jalapeno, kettle-cooked, and kettle-cooked mesquite barbecue.

How many steps do you walk each day?

If you live in the U.S. and can claim more than 4,774 steps daily, you're exceeding the average American's total. Comparable figures from England and Japan are 5,444 and 6,010 daily steps, respectively — with this info derived from cellphone data.

Suppose you're participating in one of those word-association tests, where someone gives you a word and you're to respond with the first things that enter your mind. Your word is "Ebola."

Neandertals are ancient humans who sometimes mated with early Homo sapiens in Europe and Asia — then went extinct around 40,000 years ago. Yet their genes live on in many of us.

If your ancestry traces back to populations outside sub-Saharan Africa, there's a good chance that your genome includes contributions from Neanderthals. In Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art, archaeologist and science writer Rebecca Wragg Sykes explains in splendidly engaging prose why this fact is cause for wonder and celebration.

"A bird's experience is far richer, complex, and 'thoughtful' than I'd imagined."

Animals think, feel and learn from each other in complex ways that finally are coming to be recognized.

In Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace, ecologist and veteran author Carl Safina writes: "It's as if we are just waking up from a long journey through space and having a look around an interesting new planet."

Do you worry over a young-adult family member, just out of college or in between jobs, who has moved back home? Or a teenager who faces bullying at school?

In Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers invite you to find wisdom in the ways that penguins, hyenas, whales, wolves and other animals experience adolescence.

In the United States around the turn of the 20th century, anthropologist and German immigrant Franz Boas challenged the accepted view, at the time, that all human beings could be grouped into fixed races.

According to this erroneous view, where you were born and what complement of genes you received from your ancestors determined both your physical form and your character. This race science purported to show that white Europeans were genetically destined to be the best and the brightest; other races were profoundly inferior by comparison.

For Margaret Renkl, a cedar waxwing is "A flying jungle flower. A weightless coalescence of air and light and animation." The squirrel at her squirrel-proof finch feeder surprises by "pulling it to his mouth like an ear of sweet corn at a Fourth of July potluck." The old dog howls "for his crippled hips" and "because it's his job to protect this house, but he is too old now to protect the house."

Working elephants of mountainous Myanmar and northeastern India haul timber or transport people by day, then return to the forest at night.

In his new book titled for these elephants, Giants Of The Monsoon Forest: Living And Working With Elephants, geographer Jacob Shell describes the lives of these animals with details at once compelling and disturbing.

Off the western coast of Norway are sea caves graced by stick figures painted more than 2,000 years ago. Colored red from the iron-oxide pigment used by Bronze Age artists, the figures appear to be in motion, with arms and legs splayed.

Rats' faces express joy when the animals are tickled.

Fairness matters to monkeys; when food offered to their social partners is of higher quality than what they themselves receive, they become highly agitated.

Pigs experience hope, which we know because if raised in decent conditions they anticipate that pleasurable things will happen to them.

In the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, there is a "green, leafy oasis" called Shahr-e Naw Park — a place that briefly became a staging ground for conservation scientists.

In The Snow Leopard Project and other Adventures in Warzone Conservation, Alex Dehgan describes how his Wildlife Conservation Society team hid stuffed animals throughout the park, simulating as best they could the wildlife the scientists might find on their upcoming survey mission in a remote, rugged province called Nuristan.

Higher sea levels, displacement of millions of people, disrupted agriculture, and more extreme weather events are predictions for the future in an October U.N. climate report.

An amazing animal rescue video surfaced last week, in the wake of the floodwaters caused by Hurricane Florence. In Leland, N.C., six hunting dogs had been abandoned in chain-link kennels, unable to escape the rising waters.

Do prehistoric fossils belong only in a museum or educational center that communicates science to the public? Is it ever right for commercial fossil hunters to sell dinosaur skulls to movie stars for display in their living rooms?

Ecological statistics pertaining to bees carry a sting: More than 75 percent of the world's 115 primary crops require pollination or thrive better through interaction with pollinators.

Bees are the primary pollinators in the animal kingdom, yet sudden and massive die-offs of these insects began in 2006 and continue now, with a 30 percent annual loss reported by North American beekeepers.

A slim mahogany-colored cow, Dolly was an attentive mother to her first four offspring, all boys, at Kite's Nest farm in Worcestershire, England.

Then Dolly II, a pale-colored girl, was born and became the recipient of that bovine love.

In The Secret Life of Cows, published this week in the U.S. by Penguin Press, farmer Rosamund Young tells the story of what happened when Dolly II grew up and gave birth herself.

This post is my last for 13.7: Cosmos & Culture.

For 6 1/2 years, I have had the privilege and the pleasure of writing commentaries — about 50 every year — for NPR on animals, anthropology, human evolution, nature, gender and higher education.

The blog's science and culture commentary is being discontinued by NPR — and, so, it's time to say goodbye.

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