Monday, October 10, 2011

Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescue by William Stolzenburg

In our throw-away society, we do not make things to be fixed. It's easier and cheaper to buy a new (fill-in-the-blank) than take it to a repair shop - if you can find one. The (fill-in-the-blank) is probably out of date anyway. A person has to be clever and driven to fix almost any mass manufactured gadget, appliance, or machine. Just think how much harder it is to fix an environment. The prevailing feeling has been "once spoiled, always spoiled."

In Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescue, science beat journalist William Stolzenburg reports on a growing dissatisfaction with environmental fatalism. Starting in the 1960s, some naturalists in remote area conservation have studied islands overrun with invasive species that have driven native species to eradication and planned counterattacks to save or restore wildlife. They have used old-fashion hunting skills or newly manufactured highly-targeted poisons to eliminate entire populations of rats, weasels, feral cats, goats, and pigs. On some islands off the coast of New Zealand, Alaska, and Baja California, the naturalists have actually succeeded.

As you might imagine, there have been some failures as well. Even more common have been some campaigns that have met their primary objectives, such as killing all of the rats on an island, but have had unexpected side effects, such as a significantly large number of bald eagle dying on an island that had only a handful of resident bald eagles. Some animal rights groups have opposed the campaigns arguing that their methods and objectives are cruel and their objectives arbitrary.

In classic storytelling style, Stolzenburg recounts the history of the island-saving movement episode by episode, profiling key scientists and describing difficult campaigns. I particularly enjoyed learning about many places that I will probably never visit. Having also written Where the Wild Things Were, Stolzenburg is a promising young author. More libraries should add his books.

Stolzenburg, William. Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescue. Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 9781608191031.


maggie moran said...

Sounds good, Rick! Both of us were intrigued. We loved visiting all the Hawaii islands last year and finding out what non-natural animal had the run of the joint. :D

ricklibrarian said...

Hawaii is mentioned, too, leading up to the New Zealand stories. I hope you enjoy the book. Maggie.