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

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

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by William Stolzenburg
     
 

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Rat Island rises from the icy gray waters of the Bering Sea, a mass of volcanic rock covered with tundra, midway between Alaska and Siberia. Once a remote sanctuary for enormous flocks of seabirds, the island gained a new name when shipwrecked rats colonized, savaging the nesting birds by the thousands. Now, on this and hundreds of other remote islands around the

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Overview

Rat Island rises from the icy gray waters of the Bering Sea, a mass of volcanic rock covered with tundra, midway between Alaska and Siberia. Once a remote sanctuary for enormous flocks of seabirds, the island gained a new name when shipwrecked rats colonized, savaging the nesting birds by the thousands. Now, on this and hundreds of other remote islands around the world, a massive—and massively controversial—wildlife rescue mission is underway.

Islands, comprising just three percent of Earth's landmass, harbor more than half of its endangered species. These fragile ecosystems, home to unique species that evolved in peaceful isolation, have been catastrophically disrupted by mainland predators—by rats, cats, goats, and pigs, ferried by humans to islands around the globe. To save these endangered islanders, academic ecologists have teamed up with professional hunters and semi-retired poachers in a radical act of conservation now bent on annihilating the invaders. Sharpshooters are sniping at goat herds from helicopters. Biological SWAT teams are blanketing mountainous isles with rat poison. Rat Island reveals a little-known and much-debated side of today's conservation movement, founded on a cruel-to-be-kind philosophy.

Touring exotic locales with a ragtag group of environmental fighters, Will Stolzenburg delivers both perilous adventure and intimate portraits of human, beast, hero and villain. And amidst manifold threats to life on Earth, he reveals a new reason to hope.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stolzenburg (Where the Wild Things Were) tells the story of oceanic island animals who make up nearly half of all endangered species. These animals are being decimated by nonnative mainland species brought ashore by explorers: rats, rabbits, and goats.With local fauna imperiled and islands overrun, imported species are being dispatched by any means necessary, including poison, spring-loaded steel-jawed traps, hunting dogs, and guns. Stolzenburg brings a keen eye and thirst for adventure to the front lines of this controversial battle, examining the research and perspective of scientists, conservationists, PETA, and the Nature Conservancy. With the Earth in the middle of the "sixth mass extinction" as tens of thousands of species die out every year, this study brings important attention to a little known issue, and Stolzenburg probes the moral implications of saving one species by killing another with remarkable fair-mindedness and a temperance rare and needed in the passionate animal rights debate. (June)
Salon

Stolzenburg offers a fascinating, if occasionally grisly, peek into the emerging science of preservation through eradication.
Financial Times

Gripping… Rat Island is less a tragedy of paradise lost than an uplifting tale about the heroic struggle to regain indigenous habitats by exterminating the unwanted predators…[A] powerful book.
Cleveland Plain Dealer

An extraordianry story
80 beats (Discover magazine's blog)

A gripping account.
Kirkus Reviews

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608191031
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
06/21/2011
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
8.48(w) x 5.88(h) x 0.99(d)

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