Veteran science writer Stolzenburg (Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators, 2008) pursues the question of the predator-prey dynamic.
As the author reported in his first book, such well-intended interventions in nature as the removal of wolves from Yellowstone Park can have negative consequences. Here, Stolzenburg takes another look at ecological engineering. As humans have moved across the planet, rats have traveled with us. An amazing 20 percent of the animal species on Earth live on islands, and nearly half are endangered by rats, feral cats, weasels, goats, pigs and rabbits which have been introduced by humans either inadvertently or as a food source. Most at risk are birds whose eggs and nestlings provide a source of food for these predators. In 1964, New Zealand's Wildlife Service was alerted to an outbreak of rats that threatened to overrun one of their last pristine refuges on Big South Cape Island. They were especially concerned to rescue the endangered kakapo, a green parrot so large that it neither flies nor swims. Attempts to remove them to safer environments proved only marginally successful, and the last resort appeared to be the eradication of feral cats and rats by systematic large-scale poisoning. Animal-rights advocates began an extensive campaign to stop the program when it was introduced to Santa Cruz off the coast of Southern California, but they were unsuccessful and it has continued. “As of the summer of 2010,” writes the author, “conservation specialists had conducted more than eight hundred eradications of destructive mammals from islands they had breached with human help.” Rats have been eliminated, and songbird habitats preserved. The question remains, however: Do we have the right to intervene in nature on this scale?
A tough, nuanced consideration of ethical issues that arise from man's relationship to nature.