Rat Island: Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescueby William Stolzenburg
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/i>
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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 world, a massive-and massively controversial-wildlife rescue mission is under way.
Islands, making up just 3 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-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 semiretired 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, William Stolzenburg delivers both perilous adventure and intimate portraits of human, beast, hero, and villain. And amid manifold threats to life on Earth, he reveals a new reason to hope.
“Stolzenburg offers a fascinating, if occasionally grisly, peek into the emerging science of preservation through eradication.” Salon
“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.” Financial Times
“Stolzenburg brings a keen eye and thirst for adventure to the front lines of this controversial battle…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.” Publishers Weekly
“A tough, nuanced consideration of ethical issues that arise from man's relationship to nature.” Kirkus Reviews
“[Stolzenburg] offers a solid historical background on the topic and effectively conveys the complicated nature of balancing a disrupted island ecosystem.” Library Journal
“An extraordianry story” Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A gripping account.” 80 beats (Discover magazine's blog)
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.
- Bloomsbury USA
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Meet the Author
William Stolzenburg writes about the science and spirit of saving wild creatures. Having written hundreds of magazine articles, he is more recently a 2010 Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellow, the author of the book Where the Wild Things Were, and a screenwriter for the documentary Lords of Nature: Life in a Land of Great Predators. He lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Will Stolzenburg has studied predator control techniques and worked as a wildlife technician, monitoring endangered species. He has written hundreds of magazine features and columns on the ecology of rarity and extinction for Science News and Nature Conservancy, among others. He lives in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
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