Book Review: Where the Wild Things Were


Author: William Stolzenburg
Title: Where the wild things were : life, death, and ecological wreckage in a land of vanishing predators
Publication Info:  New York : Bloomsbury : Distributed to the trade by Macmillan, 2008.
ISBN: 9781596912991

Summary/Review:

This book explores the role of predatory carnivores in ecosystems.  Far from just being the top of the food chain, Stolzenburg shows the evidence of numerous researchers that predators are necessary for maintaining a healthy balance of prey and vegetation.  Without predators, ecosystems collapse completely.

Stolzenburg shows evidence of similar regions with and without their primary predator – whether it be sea otters, sharks, or wolves – and the differences are alarming.  The most dangerous predator of course is the human, and we have a long history of exterminating predators.  Stolzenburg believes this goes back to the Pleistocene when the first humans arriving in the Americas eliminated the megafauna of two continents.  Some of the most fascinating and controversial ideas are to “rewild”the Americas by introducing large mammals such as camels, lions, and elephants into the wild!  While discussing the objections to the plan, I am surprised that Stolzenburg made no mention of the unfortunate history of invasive species (cane toads anyone?).

This is a very illuminating, saddening, but ultimately important perspective on how to preserve and recreate damaged ecosystems.

Read this Conservation magazine article by Stolzenburg for more details.

Favorite Passage:

The most dangerous experiment is already underway.  The future most to be feared is the one now dictated by the status quo.  In vanquishing our  most fearsome beasts from the modern world, we have released worse monsters from the compound.  They come in disarmingly meek and insidious forms, in chewing plagues of hoofed beasts and sweeping hordes of rats and cats and second-order predators.  They come in the form of denuded seascapes and barren forests, ruled by jellyfish and urchins, killer deer and sociopathic monkeys.  They come as haunting demons of the human mind.  In conquering the fearsome beasts, the conquerors had unwittingly orpahned themselves. – p. 200

Recommended books: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Rating: ****

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