Where the Wild Things Were

I once mentioned to my dad that I’d had a dream about a bear and he told me some theory whereby you dream about your local Big Predator, so since we lived in bear country (er, very broadly defined) of course my head would be full of bear dreams. I don’t really buy this – I think I’ve had more tiger-related dreams than bear ones and I’ve never lived in Asia – but I do buy the idea that Big Scary Beasts are always kind of lurking at the edges of our minds. At least I always jump when I hear strange noises in the woods. (It’s always something innocuous. Until, y’know, the time it isn’t.)

So I was drawn in by the premise of Wiliam Stolzenburg’s Where the Wild Things Were. (And also the title! I love Where the Wild Things Are!) Which can be summed up as: ecosystems without their carnivores are bleak and sad incarnations of themselves overrun with weeds and starving deer.

There are a bunch of examples going over the background of this idea with otters and wolves various biologists/ecologists who study them. There is talk of rewilding which I love for being a big, sweeping idea despite being dubious about some of the practicalities. Let lose some elephants and lions on the American Plains? What could go wrong? A few dissections turned me off pursuing Biology, but I do find it interesting as long as I’m not required to wield a scalpel. (I think this explains my fondness for dinosaurs; all the gross bits melt away.)

I did feel some nagging annoyance that so many of the examples seem so American. Of course it’s fine to focus on the US if you so desire, but it didn’t feel like a deliberate choice so much as a default. Perhaps it’s just me, but a few times when he talks about, say, wolves being eradicated in the Continental US and as a sidenote, there were still some off in Canada somewhere, I almost got offended on their behalf. Canadian wolves still count. I bet when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone the elk made them say “about” seventeen zillion times. No wonder they started getting eaten.

Anyway, the book is pretty firmly pro-predator, which is fair enough and makes good ecological sense. Personally, I’m glad to think of wild things being Somewhere Out There, and I agree eradicating wolves from Yellowstone and similar policies were spectacularly ill-advised. But I understand the impulse. I wouldn’t want to run into anything with fangs in a dark alley and if they were skulking around my house/kids/livestock I like to think I’d be all wise and level headed but I might find myself going for the gun too.

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1 Response to Where the Wild Things Were

  1. Poor old wolves. They get such a bad rap. I hate reading about the elimination of major species in various ecosystems — it’s tremendously sad as an ecological problem, and it’s also sad aesthetically. I want the idea of the animals as much as I want the actual animals.

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