We've all heard about the direct impact that man has had on numerous ecologies, how humans have helped spur the latest great extinction event*. But wh...moreWe've all heard about the direct impact that man has had on numerous ecologies, how humans have helped spur the latest great extinction event*. But what is rather less well-known is the impact we've had through the introduction (accidental or deliberate but poorly considered) of invasive species - cats, weasels, arctic foxes and most especially RATS.
Scientists estimate that at least 103 species of animals - mostly birds - have gone extinct due primarily to predation by introduced rats for which they have no natural defense in Hawaii alone. Multiply that by the number of other vulnerable islands and that figure goes up significantly. Numerous others have been driven to near extinction by rat infestations. It's even thought the true story behind the devastation on Easter Island was precipitated by the presence of imported rats.
We know the damage that's been done - and that continues today. But what can and is being done? In short, small groups are mounting herculean efforts to remove invaders completely from these islands and give the native species a chance to claw their way from the brink of extinction, using methods as absolute as they are controversial.
Rat Island tells the tale of small groups of naturalists, park rangers and evangelists who are fighting the uphill battle against invasive species - and winning.
THE STORY Rat Island is the story of what we've lost when introduced species enter an ecosystem ripe for plunder. Numbers of the natives drop precipitously, even to the point of extinction. William Stolzenburg details in grisly detail some of the magnificent species - primarily birds - who have wiped out by a few pairs of rats who landed on an otherwise isolated island of unique life. He goes in depth most on the story of New Zealand and its embattled flightless parrot, the kakapo, but touches similar examples of woe all over the world.
Then he tells the tale of those who would save these island oases where so many unique species dwell. Using diverse methods such as wiping out entire populations of invasive species via poison, trapping and mata hari goats, naturalists do what they can to rid these fragile habitats of the marauders so that the rare, native species can attempt to make a comeback. Meanwhile, others desperately search for new isolated locations to move the remaining populations of threatened species where eradication isn't possible in a last ditch effort to protect them and give them a chance.
Stolzenburg does a good job at setting the stage in this book - perhaps too good. The first half of the story covers the relentless slaughter of millions of birds, insects and reptiles by introduced species. From the eradication of seabird colonies throughout the Pacific islands by 3 species of ship-borne rats to the devastation wrought upon the unique fauna of New Zealand's islands by a succession of imported creatures (rats > rabbits > stoats) to the voracious appetites of the arctic fox among previously protected auklet colonies in the Aleutians, Stolzenburg's text is a litany of horrors. After the first three chapters you are horrified; after the next 3, despondent; then comes hopelessness after even the most courageous early efforts at restoring balance are blocked by beauracracy.
It was only the hope of a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel that kept me reading. But even the second half of the book - the 'lighter' half - was darkened by the constant veil of human stupidity and continued horror stories. Perhaps it IS the reality, but having even the greatest successes constantly edged in darkness made it hard to celebrate the few, but increasing, victories being had in the conservation fight.
While I liked the book overall, I would have preferred a slightly more positive tone in later chapters to highlight the hope we have at restoring some of the balance.
About the Book One interesting aspect of the book is the rough-hewn edges of the pages, which give it a more natural feel than most books produced today. That said, however, the book is shorter than expected, too as the last 42 pages are all bibliography thus clocking the actual text at 222 pages. I'm not sure why but it felt like I was cheated a little bit.
CONCLUSION Some chapters of our natural history are already written (unless we figure out how to clone extinct species) and its important to understand what's already been done to fully detail the importance (and magnitude) of what needs to be done.
Rat Island offers a look into the worst of the situation but some beacons of hope in preserving already threatened animals from 'unnatural' threats. While dark at times, the book is a worthwhile story to know.
* it has been estimated that the current rate of extinction is 10,000x the natural rate, mostly due to human activities and their environmental impact.(less)
Most people never realize quite how much they get nickel and dimed in their day-to-day transactions. Bob Sullivan, however, is NOT one of those people...moreMost people never realize quite how much they get nickel and dimed in their day-to-day transactions. Bob Sullivan, however, is NOT one of those people. Sullivan, author of the MSNBC.com column, "Red Tape Confidential", is a master at finding hidden fees in every facet of our lives - something he calls "Gotchas" (which I'm pretty sure he had before Sarah Palin).
Hidden fees in your cell phone bill, your credit card statement, even your 401(k) are all exposed in this short book that tackles about a dozen of the most notorious industries for hidden and unrelenting fees. He delves into their methods, what to look for and how you can avoid - or even reverse - some of these fees.
Each chapter covers an industry considered one of the worst by a nationwide survey. In it, he delves deep into the types of fees that industry is notorious for, gives some real-life examples, explains why he thinks these fees are wrong, unethical and at times borderline illegal, and then gives you some ideas for recourse. At the end of the chapter, he summarizes and offers some addresses you can write to if you can't get satisfaction from the company themselves.
After the individual industries, there is a whole section of the book about what you can do to protect yourself, and more importantly a series of sample letters and scripts for talking to the companies when you think you deserve a refund.
-- About Bob Sullivan -- Now, there's little bad one can say about the information contained in this book (other than WHAT it says, which is of course aggravating). However, Sullivan's style can be a little trying at times. He reminds me of that stock guy on CNBC (Cramer, I think) where he constantly jabs at you for your attention - where every statement has to be a "HEY - LOOK AT THIS WILL YA. YOU HAVE BEEN GOTCHA'D!!!". But other than that, the book is an easy read - if not easy to digest confortably.
-- Is this book worth it? -- I was lucky, because someone gave me this book so I didn't have to wonder whether to buy it or not. But is it worth it? It could be, depending on how much you can retain from your average reading vs. wanting a reference to go back to. The information is definitely worth a read, if only to get an idea of how to protect yourself. If you are good at reading and remembering - or like to take notes - grab it at your local library. But if you want a resources to have around you (such as for a refinance you'll be doing in the future), it's a relatively inexpensive book that could save you hundreds of dollars in the future.(less)
As a birder, I've always known that we owed a lot to John James Audubon. But until I read this biography, I hadn't realized quite how much American or...moreAs a birder, I've always known that we owed a lot to John James Audubon. But until I read this biography, I hadn't realized quite how much American ornithological history owes to one man's quest to document the species of birds found in this country (or at least, once did).
This book was given to me by a friend almost a year ago, and it took me this long to give it the attention it deserved. The biography covers the life - and times - of John James Audubon, author and illustrator of the "Birds of America" book that would define the species that existed in the times that a new country was forming.
Not only does it give us a detailed look at Audubon's life - French ex-patriot, store owner, husband, adventurer, father, writer, ornithologist and artist - but it gives us a good look at the time period in which he lived, framing it in his quest to produce the massive tome of illustrations, but still giving us valuable insight into how the world was - particularly the fledgling United States - in those early years.
Author Richard Rhodes does a remarkable job at giving the reader a solid and thorough accounting of Audubon's remarkable life story, starting with his illegitimate birth to his rise to become the most famous birder in the world. Through a combination of thorough research and remarkable records of letters, journals and thoughts from contemporaries, we get to see into the mind of this artist as he took a remarkable habit and turned it into an art and then into a lifestyle.
Perhaps just as important as the story of Audubon's own life is the story of the world around him at the time, and his views on that world. We learn what it was like in the late 1700s in America, as the populace struggled to define themselves and survive the frontier they were trying to tame; we see the world of the expanding U.S., seeing the territories of Kentucky, Louisiana and the rest through the stories and records of a remarkable man. And interestingly, we get to see what might have been the first conservationist, as Audubon looked upon the 'advancement' of the American peoples at the expense of the natural settings and creatures he loved so much.
No review in this space can truly grasp the enormity of the information captured in this book. Part biography, part natural history and part world history, "JJA: The Making of an American" is a book that will appeal to birders, obviously, but will also find a special place with anyone who loves to learn about where we came from as an American people.(less)