OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian author and environmentalist Farley Mowat, a fervent and sometimes controversial writer who sold some 17 million books, has died, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Wednesday. He was 92.
Mowat's work introduced millions of readers to the Canadian north, a vast, sparsely populated region few writers had explored in depth. He also campaigned for the need to protect wildlife and strongly opposed over-development by humans.
"I feel sorry for us because not only are we a bad animal, but we're most inevitably a doomed animal. Every species dies out. But our doom is here and now," he told an interviewer in 1998.
Harper said in a statement that Mowat would "be remembered as a passionate Canadian. His legacy will live on in the treasure of Canadian literature he leaves behind, which will remain a joy to both new and old fans around the world".
Mowat, who served as an officer in Italy in World War Two, came to prominence in 1952 with his first book, "People of the Deer," which described the travails of an Inuit tribe battling starvation and government indifference in Canada's Arctic.
The book sparked interest in the north, and Mowat built on his fame with "Never Cry Wolf" in 1963, in which he tried to dispel the image of the wolf as a killing machine responsible for the decline in the caribou population.
But some experts denounced as nonsense his portrayal of wolves as relatively gentle animals that would rather hunt mice or hares than caribou and debates about the accuracy of his work continued for decades. In 1996, Canada's Saturday Night magazine put Mowat on its cover with a long nose, implying he was a liar.
"I took some pride in having it known that I never let facts get in the way of a good story. I was writing subjective non-fiction all along," Mowat told an interviewer in 2012.
Mowat wrote more than 40 books and was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada decoration in 1981. He is survived by his second wife and two adult children.
He was also a friend of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, himself a great nature lover.
"He was obviously a passionate Canadian who shaped a lot of my generation growing up with his books, and he will be sorely missed," said Trudeau's son Justin, 42, who heads Canada's opposition Liberal Party.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish)