Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife

Wired Wilderness: Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

Wired Wilderness cover image

American wildlife biologists first began fitting animals with radio transmitters in the 1950s. By the 1980s the practice had proven so useful to scientists and nonscientists alike that it became global. Wired Wilderness is the first book-length study of the origin, evolution, use, and impact of these now-commonplace tracking technologies.

Combining approaches from environmental history, the history of science and technology, animal studies, and the cultural and political history of the United States, Etienne Benson traces the radio tracking of wild animals across a wide range of institutions, regions, and species and in a variety of contexts. He explains how hunters, animal-rights activists, and other conservation-minded groups gradually turned tagging from a tool for control into a conduit for connection with wildlife. Drawing on extensive archival research, interviews with wildlife biologists and engineers, and in-depth case studies of specific conservation issues — such as the management of deer, grouse, and other game animals in the upper Midwest and the conservation of tigers and rhinoceroses in Nepal — Benson illuminates telemetry’s context-dependent uses and meanings as well as commonalities among tagging practices.

Wired Wilderness traces the evolution of the modern wildlife biologist’s field practices and shows how the intense interest of nonscientists at once constrained and benefited the field. Scholars of and researchers involved in wildlife management will find this history both fascinating and revealing.


“An important addition to an emerging picture on how and why efforts emerged to keep a pulse on the planet.”
— Gregg Mitman, Technology & Culture
“A fascinating read … will appeal to anyone with an interest in wildlife management or research.”
— Jenny MacPherson, Biological Conservation
“If you want to read a gripping tale of wildlife research in the face of constant aggravation, this is it!”
“A unique study of biopolitics in the history of wildlife tracking.”
— Sarah Papworth, Oryx
“The greatest strength of Wired Wilderness is its extraordinary detail, melding the history of science and technology with environmental history. Benson also examines at some length the political implications of radio tracking technology, its hybrid scientific and social identity, and the contested nature of the notion of wildlife itself.”
— Stephen Bocking, Isis
“A must read for anyone interested in radio-telemetry technology or … involved in current radio-telemetry research.”
— Howard O. Clark, Jr., Canadian Field-Naturalist
“A much-needed reminder that human dimensions have influenced and will continue to influence the direction of wildlife conservation, science, and management just as much as changing technologies.”
“An outstanding survey of how wild animals are tracked and documented.”
Midwest Book Review

Wired Wilderness was the subject of an H-Net review roundtable (PDF) published on January 10, 2013.

In January 2012 Wired Wilderness was discussed on Bernard Geoghegan’s Cultural Technologies podcast along with Jussi Parikka’s Insect Media.


Wired Wilderness is available in hardcover from Powell’s Books, Amazon.comBarnes & Noble, and other booksellers, or directly from Johns Hopkins University Press. It’s also available as an ebook in Kindle or Sony Reader formats and via Project MUSE. Previews can be found at Google Books and Amazon.

Author: Etienne

Historian of science, technology, animals, and the environment.