Where the wild things wereI suppose that still in us is this instinctive fear of our top predators, and that might be why we kill them recklessly although we have not much to fear about anymore as we have relentlessly and gruesomely eliminated them since our emergence as a new species distinct from our great apes siblings.

But we need to remind ourselves (or learn and understand) that the biggest and scariest of carnivores are more dangerous by their absence…

Where the Wild Things Were” by Will Stolzenburg is a captivating and accessible scientific summary about the vital importance of our top predators as well as a wonderful work of natural history. A read that we would all benefit from, and that hopefully will make us understand the ecological imperative for protecting them.

My rating (/5✮): ✮✮✮✮

See also http://www.thewildthings.net/ for more insights…


“Local species diversity is directly related to the efficiency with which predators prevent the monopolization of the major environmental requisites by one species.”

“The American history of predator eradication is notable mainly for its breathtaking rapidity, though not for its novelty. In terms of general pattern and process, it’s a story as old as civilization, arising some ten thousand years ago in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates of Mesopotamia and the Nile of Egypt, with the advent of livestock.”

“In 2003, two Canadian scientists confirmed the gut-level suspicions of observers around the world. In a paper published in the journal Nature, Ransom A. Myers and Boris Worm exhaustively tallied the catch of the world’s tuna and sharks, marlins, swordfish and codfish—the oceans’ alpha fish—starting with the industrial fishing revolution of the 1960s. They conservatively estimated that the numbers of the ocean’s top predators were down by 90 percent. “From giant blue marlin to mighty bluefin tuna, and from tropical groupers to Antarctic cod, industrial fishing has scoured the global ocean,” said Myers. ‘There is no blue frontier left.’”

“Carnivorous animals are important,” ended Estes. “We have to stop thinking of them as passengers on this earth and start thinking of them as drivers.”

“Our current knowledge about the natural processes that maintain biodiversity suggests a crucial and irreplaceable regulatory role of top predators. The absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification accompanied by a rush of extinctions.”

“The domestic cat, from the backyard venturer to the abandoned pet gone feral, had over the past five hundred years spanned the continents and major islands of the world. Turned loose upon the global fauna of native rodents, rabbits, birds, snakes, and lizards, it had chalked up a conservative estimate of thirty-three extinctions and uncounted decimations.”

“It’s likely wolves are going to be the single-most important force to save the pronghorn of Yellowstone.”

“Several sobering observations on the state of modern conservation. One was that the most glorified national parks and refuges in the land, the supposed bastions of biological complexity, weren’t cutting it. Just as the tenets of island biogeography had predicted, the isolated parks—besieged at their borders by foreign species and disease, weakened from within by inbreeding among the natives, and hazardously exposed to every natural cataclysm visited upon their lonely little fortress—were being drained of wild species at rates inversely related to their size. And with few exceptions, their size was far too small. The other ubiquitous pitfall of the modern park, noted Soulé and Noss, was its conspicuous lack of big carnivores, itself a guarantee of attrition. Without Terborgh’s “big things that run the world,” the parks were ultimately left to the mercy of the herbivores and destined for ecological decay(…)
The answer to the parks’ dilemma was a strategy niftily nicknamed the three C’s: cores, corridors, and carnivores. Protect the biggest remaining pieces of nature, multiply their effective size by connecting them one to the other, and replace their missing pinnacles—put back their missing grizzlies, wolves, mountain lions, jaguars, wolverines, or whatever top predator no longer hunted there.”

“Slime has become the norm in many young minds (among them young conservation biologists). And the younger the observer, the more acceptable the slime. It is the phenomenon made known by the marine biologist Daniel Pauly as the shifting-baseline syndrome. The world as first seen by the child becomes his lifelong standard of excellence, mindless of the fact he is admiring the ruins of his parents. Generation to generation, the natural world decays, the ratchet of perception tightens. Gradually, imperceptibly, big sharks give way to small sharks, small sharks to baitfish, baitfish to jellyfish to slime. On land, the big cats and wolves become feral house cats and coyotes. The wild standard sinks ever lower and becomes ever heavier to raise. Few notice, few care. Eventually, nobody remembers that wolves not long ago freely roamed the Adirondacks, and hence there is mad howling over the suggestion of returning them to their homeland. Southern Californians panic on learning that a cougar track has been discovered on the fringes of their gated neighborhood—mindless that cougars roamed these hills and canyons long before gated communities drew their lines in the chaparral. Shifting baselines help explain why the Pennsylvania deer hunter sees everything right and nothing wrong in a forest that’s swarming with deer yet as barren of biodiversity as a city park. Slime creeps in many guises.”

“It is a maxim among carnivore biologists that the main reason big predators now die is because people kill them. People run them over with speeding cars, they shoot them, trap them, gas them, poison them, and torture them. Laws notwithstanding, they kill them out of sheer spite, then bury the evidence—a practice so routine it has become a barstool commandment in certain rural cultures: Shoot, shovel, and shut up.”

“Examinations of big-game hunters in Africa and North America come to similar and unastounding conclusions. Sport hunters tend to go heavily for trophies, selecting the biggest, handsomest, fittest bulls and bucks—skimming the cream of the genetic crop. Working carnivores, on the other paw, tend to take the young, the old, the lame, and the weak, with efficiency of effort and immediate survival foremost in mind. Sport hunters tend to concentrate their kill in a few weeks of the regulated season, which means an elk in wolfless Colorado has ten or eleven months between hunting seasons to make a clear-cut or wallow of whatever streamside grove they care to lounge in. It means scavengers like grizzlies—if there were any left in Colorado—would be more hard-pressed to feed their young in spring if the only carcasses were to be found in the wake of rifle hunters in the fall.”

“The goal of managed hunting, concludes Berger, remains founded on human profit, not the preservation and stability of biological diversity. And Berger is not holding out great hopes for some miraculous resurgence of biophilia to save the day. “Perhaps the best we can do is recognize differences imposed by our own human culture and our hunting, and attempt to maintain places that are good for our souls.”

“If invertebrates were to disappear,” declared E. O. Wilson—and the little things have never had a greater champion—“I doubt that the human species could last more than a few months.”…

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