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Where the Wild Things Were is a challenging and provocative study of the importance of predation. Successful ecosystems -- which ultimately support humanity -- require top predators, so-called nuisance animals like gray wolves, jaguars, pumas, and sharks. Contrary to the lore that surrounds such animals, they're not indiscriminate killers. That title rightly belongs to Homo sapiens, the sole creatures with the ability and determination to put immediate gratification above the long-term health of our environment. Our own instincts, it seems, are borne primarily of cowardice and greed: when an animal scares us, competes with our interests, or boasts a soft pelt or ivory tusks, we shoot, poison, trap, electrocute, or simply squeeze it out of existence.
Stolzenburg recounts many carefully researched examples of predator eradication and its disastrous aftermath, including the eventual extinction of everything from the smaller prey species to trees. In every case, the unintended consequences are nearly impossible to predict, but will most certainly wreak ecological havoc on animal and plant life alike.
This is a humbling book because in its vivid descriptions of wild kingdoms past we see what might have been the natural world of today. Yet it is also a hopeful book because it may still be possible to turn the tide against the mass extinctions we've set in motion, and begin to heal the planet. (Fall 2008 Selection)