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"Where the Wild Things Were"

A world free from predators would not be idyllic.

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Where the Wild Things Were builds on one simple ecological truth: predators matter.
It should surprise no one that the best way to preserve nature is to ensure that all of its parts are in place. But the reality is that humans have long been waging a war against large carnivores – lions and tigers and bears, to name but a few. The result, says author William Stolzenburg in this absorbing and delightful work of natural history, is that we have thrown the balance of nature out of whack. The science he presents is not all new, but the scientific perspective Stolzenburg reflects will be fresh and illuminating to many readers.

From the wolves we have hunted, trapped, and poisoned out of most of the lower forty-eight states (resulting in a vegetation-destroying plague of deer, elk, and other, smaller beasts) to the sharks and other large fish we’ve all but eaten out of the sea, Stolzenburg argues that some of the most frightening animals in the world are among the most important for maintaining nature’s balance.

Predators as ‘keystone’ species
Predators are not just an important part of intact ecosystems, we learn. Often, they are true keystone species – remove the wolves from Yellowstone National Park, say, or the sea otters from a coastal kelp forest, and the whole natural edifice collapses.

A world free from predators might seem idyllic. But in a series of ecological case studies, Stolzenburg shows how removing the largest carnivores from an ecosystem lets lesser meat eaters, or newly carefree prey, come to dominate. He paints a disturbing picture of this new biological reality, from American woodlands and backyards overrun by marauding deer and raccoons to rampaging bands of meat-hungry baboons in Africa.

In doing so, he makes a strong case that we pursue our ongoing war against nature’s great meat eaters to our own detriment.

Aided by a graceful tone and a refreshing blend of scientific rigor and personal observation, Stolzenburg makes a reliable and pleasant guide through this potentially treacherous intellectual terrain.

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