The Fall of the Wild

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Publishers Summary "The passenger pigeon, the great auk, the Tasmanian tiger--the memory of these vanished species haunts the fight against extinction. Seeking to save other creatures from their fate in an age of accelerating biodiversity loss, wildlife advocates have become captivated by a narrative of heroic conservation efforts. A range of technological and policy strategies, from the traditional, such as regulations and refuges, to the novel--the scientific wizardry of genetic engineering and synthetic biology--seemingly promise solutions to the extinction crisis.

In The Fall of the Wild, Ben A. Minteer calls for reflection on the ethical dilemmas of species loss and recovery in an increasingly human-driven world. He asks an unsettling but necessary question: Might our well-meaning efforts to save and restore wildlife pose a threat to the ideal of preserving a world that isn't completely under the human thumb? Minteer probes the tension between our impulse to do whatever it takes and the risk of pursuing strategies that undermine our broader commitment to the preservation of wildness."

A thoughtful book with insights into the Anthropocene.  Ben A. Minteer provokes the reader to reflect beyond how humans have willfully impact the environment and leads the reader to consider some uncomfortable questions.
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I received this book free from NetGalley. Minteer here makes a nuanced case for "pragmatic reservationism," as he calls it. This is an environmental ethic which does its best to limit human interventions in the natural world while acknowledging the occasional necessity of such interventions; for example, he argues that occasional translocation of threatened species in the face of likely extinction is an acceptable intervention but the reintroduction of an extinct species created from ancient DNA or modified from that creature's descendants is a bit ethically murky. Minteer's arguments are succinct and he makes his case as well as the case of those he disagrees with in a manner that is clear and readable even for those outside the realm of environmental science and ethics.
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I very much enjoyed this book. While it was relatively brief, it nevertheless lays out a compelling case for the need to think more deeply in our attempts to craft a meaningful (and effective) conservation ethos. While not a radical by any means, Minteer nevertheless emerges in these pages as a thoughtful and genuinely concerned conservationist who is very much aware of the pressing nature of the anthropocene. He convincingly argues for the need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to contend with the pressing threats to vulnerable animal species, rather than relying on magic bullet solutions.
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Great read. Should we or shouldn't we reintroduce animals back into the environments that we have evicted them from?. While it worked for the wolves of Yellowstone, people would probably balk even more if people try to bring back lions, cheetahs and elephants/mammoths to the Great plains of America where these animals roamed during the ice age. Once an animal disappears from an environment we humans have a tendency to forget it was even there very quickly, which is a shame.
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I enjoyed this book because I've been interested in this subject for years. It does talk a LITTLE about how science can resurrect (to some extent) extinct species. Amazingly, cells can be recovered and combined with current species that are as close as possible biologically to the extinct ones. Then we will have something that closely resembles the original, but won't be exact. I wish this book went into more detail about that. Unfortunately, it goes on and on about the "morality" issues of conservation, extinction likelihood etc etc etc. which was boring.
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Goodreads Rating: 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.

Incredibly thought-provoking and captivating all the way throughout. Minteer provides a baseline introduction to the ethical and moral dilemmas of the world of conservation, and does so in a relatively non-technical way, making it accessible for all readers.

Covering topics ranging from the role of zoos & wildlife parks in conservation and scientific collection of specimens to more controversial assisted colonization and de-extinction, Minteer introduces the topic and a brief history of it and covers the modern debates surrounding the topic, some of which are surprising where many scientists and conservations stand.

The most infuriating topic, with a head-desk worthy ideology, for me was the ethical justification behind collecting specimens for scientific research and record. Killing at least one or two members of a species of any type of creature and preserving it for further scientific study and research has been a common method for centuries. But given the modern concern with conserving species and being more aware of the possibility that a newly discovered species may already be endangered, it would make sense that kill-collecting specimens would occur less frequently, especially given many technological advances in monitoring that have been introduced in the past few decades.

I was surprised to learn that kill-collecting is still very common, highly defended in many circles, and is encouraged to an extreme. Many scientists believe it’s actually better to collect more specimens of a rare, likely rare, or rediscovered species, justifying that they’re preserving the few remaining individuals for historical record. If they didn’t do this, they argue, then it would be difficult to study the species in the future and would also provide an opportunity for the public to see the species, as the specimens could be shown in multiple museums.

The ethical debate about zoos and wildlife parks didn’t add too much to the equation, I didn’t think, although it did focus substantially on discussing Zootopia (the expansion to Denmark’s Givskud Zoo, not the movie). Intended to be an immersive experience for visitors and minimally invasive for the animals, it’s an interesting idea, but raises questions about where the “wild” ends and a manufactured habitat begins.

Assisted colonization and de-extinction receive ample chapters discussing not only the ethical dilemmas, but also providing historical perspective of the issues, which added even more depth to the arguments being made.

Minteer does inject not only his view, but some of the research he himself has done and written about for these various topics. He isn’t completely removed from the narrative, but he is relatively transparent when he includes his own research and conclusions.

While the subject matter might be a relatively niche interest, if you’re at all interested in conservation and the ethics surrounding it, I’d highly recommend this book! It raises some truly fascinating questions.
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Minteer's book fills a niche in animal-related non-fiction that is fairly sparsely populated. I have not seen many books that deal with the idea of de-extinction, i.e. bringing extinct life back through cloning and gene manipulation. I found the premise of the book extremely intriguing because I have often wished that life forms made extinct in the recent past, especially by human intervention, could be brought back somehow Jurassic-Park style, but without the giant predators! 
Written for the general public in a style very comprehensible to non-scientists, "The Fall of the Wild" gives detailed histories of the extinction of animals such as the Passenger Pigeon, the Great Auk, the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine), and the Heath Hen. He also describes near-extinctions, such as the American Bison, and how drastic conservation efforts saved the species.
Minteer advocates a type of conservation ethic that tries as much as possible to limit human disruption of already endangered and threatened species. For example, he received a lot of criticism from the scientific community for advocating non-lethal means of species documentation, for example using photography, audio recordings, and DNA swabs, rather than collecting "voucher specimens." Collecting voucher specimens involves killing one or more animals in the field to collect the remains for scientific study in the lab. Minter argues that this is irresponsible and dangerous to a species when the population of the species might be very small, rare, and/or isolated. 
The book covers the case of zoos and aquariums in the world of conservation. The idea that zoos and aquariums have an important role to play in saving species from extinction is debatable, and Minter shows us both sides. The California Condor would most likely never have been saved if not for the intervention of the combined efforts of zoos and conservationists. On the other hand, zoos and aquariums are artificial environments for the animals and involve motives a bit more commercial than simply rescuing species from the brink of extinction. Do they have a role to play? The answer is yes and no. They have been instrumental in the captive breeding and reintroduction of endangered species, but sanctuaries and reserves can accomplish the same things without the exhibition aspect.
Another conservation effort discussed in the book is "assisted colonization," i.e translocating animals to other, safer habitats outside of their normal range to protect them from threats, such as climate change and poaching. Although a good short-term solution to greatly endangered species, this method is also controversial, as it does not solve the basic problems with the original habitat. 
Finally, the idea of de-extinction, or "resurrection biology" is possibly even more controversial than non-lethal species documentation and assisted colonization. Minteer discusses the pros and cons of bringing species back from the extinction abyss in the fifth chapter "Promethean Dreams." What has happened to the species' habitat in its absence? How will other lifeforms deal with the sudden reintroduction of a creature gone for decades or centuries? How will new individuals of the species behave and adapt after being created "in a vacuum" as opposed to coming into being the natural way as the result of an unbroken line of evolution? Are we doing this to show our own technological prowess or to assuage our guilt, or is it truly for the good of the animals and nature? With an exploding extinction rate and rapidly advancing climate change, is it fair to bring them back when we are not handling the environment that well as it is? Should we be dealing with the present instead of trying to bring back the past?
These are the big questions to ponder and "The Fall of the Wild" serves as a helpful guide through the complex and controversial world of conservation ethics.
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With the sixth mass extinction event on Earth underway, science surrounding the study of wild animals, their habitat, and their conservation has been focused on how we can save animals and preserve diversity. Many different methods have been proposed and some have been used, to varying success. However, the discussion rarely focuses on whether we should use these methods, and their ethical implications. Scientific studies themselves attempt to be as neutral as possible, but the applications of such research is where ethics particularly play a role. There are many ways to save a species, but to what limits should we interfere? The Fall of the Wild raises the important questions about some of the most controversial conservation techniques and provides the viewpoints from both sides. This was designed to be a shorter book in order to allow the reader to complete the book within two or three sittings.

Topics included for discussion in this book focus on what researchers can do, and whether they should or shouldn’t use such techniques in order to save a species from extinction. No definitive answers are provided, as that all depends on which principles you hold true from an ethical standpoint. The author does present his personal beliefs on the topics, but acknowledges every view point. The book begins with a discussion of scientific collecting of samples from species and populations of unknown size, or that were only rediscovered. Should we sample in order to understand the population better and risk taking too many out of the breeding pool, or should we forsake the knowledge we can gain in order to maintain the gene pool? The book then moves in to the question about rearing animals in captivity to reintroduce into the wild. Does this actually preserve the species, or are they now a remnant of what they were? What about zoos? Are they a cruel shadow of the wild, or a conservational tool? What about de-extinction? Will the possibility of being able to bring any animal back from extinction lesson our efforts to fix the root cause? And would that time and money be better spent on saving living species instead of saving ones long gone? There are so many questions!

This was an intriguing read that made me ponder many of the practices and thoughts that go into conservation biology and what ramifications they might have for different species and ecosystems as a whole. These are the questions that we should be talking about more, both between scientists and the public as these decisions affect us all. This book provides a great diving board into the conversations that we all need to be having, and would be perfect as a discussion starter in a biological ethics course, or for anyone who just generally cares about the environment.

*I would like to thank the publisher, author, and NetGalley for providing an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
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Scary days. Thoughtfully written book on saving endangered species (and maybe trying to bring a few back) for the layman. If offers challenging ideas and may be good at provoking conversation in the classroom and around the home. I have never been a fan of zoos. Wild life refugees get under my skin, too, but where to keep these beleaguered animals protected from humans? I offer no solution, but spending millions on reviving long gone species seems a waste of money. We need to concentrate on the ones we have left. Great book!
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Unless you are actually studying about extinction at the time, you rarely think about it. This book is a thoughtful read for all. As a teacher I  recommend as a supplement for classroom use and discussion,
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How far do we as humans, in our incredible state of leverage over other species, go in our conservation efforts? Just what would the modern titans of environmental conservation have to say about species relocation, de-extinction (using DNA technology to bring back an extinct species), especially when considering current issues that complicate things such as climate change?

Such are questions that Minteer asks in his book, which is not a long read, to be honest. 

The pros and cons of several subjects are brought to light here: We're asked to consider the taking of specimens in the name of science---especially at-risk species; the true relevance of zoos are called into question; we get to ponder just what 'ol Aldo Leopold would have thought about some still-debated quandaries in the conservation world; and, finally, to de-extinction, where Minteer unfolds what we could possibly gain (or lose) from it. 

It's a grounded and sweeping pile of information wherein Minteer's obviously just allowing the juiciest of morsels to make the pages and sparing many of the details that would be riddled with scientific jargon wont to repel many readers once things get too far into the weeds. 

It's obvious that Minteer is incredibly wary of bringing back any species from full extinction (his reasoning is compelling), and, in what could be arguably described as the most passionate point of the book, he outlines a nigh-apocalyptic scenario that's, well, worth considering, even as much as the animal-lover would like to just fly on to the next chapter. 

A breeze of a read that wishes to bring you up to speed on some hot-button issues within the conservation circle, Minteer equips the reader to go on to continue to explore deeper in to his presented subjects (he even says as much and provides ample resources) and to not just sit idly by. Readers of all things nature will find something interesting here. Give it a go. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and Columbia University Press for the advance read.
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This book focuses on the ethics, pros and cons, of a variety of conservation methods.  Ben Minteer makes use of several popular examples to make his point.  Examples and topics that make an appearance in this book include the Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk, Thylacine, Elephants, American Bison, Condors, specimen collecting of marginal species, captive breeding programmes, the future appearance of zoos (think Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs), species translocation, assisted colonization of endeangered species outside their usual range, resurrection science, and the limits of technological "fixes" to problems.

What the author has tried to promote in this book is an alternative environmental ethic, what he calls "pragmatic preservationism".  This concept captures two core ideas regarding conservation"  (1) the growing need to intervene more aggressively to save species in a rapidly changing environment; and (2) an acknowledgement of our resonsibility to preseve a convincing sense of the wild and a respect for nature as we implement (or not) these interventions.  

While this isn't a particularly original or detailed examination of the topic, it does make for an interesting, well-written, thought-provoking, enjoyable and short introduction to conservation ethics, with no irrelevant biographical side tangents.
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This proved to be quite a difficult book to review. I have always loved studying extinct species and the prospect of bringing them back in the flesh is something that excites me immensely, particularly the Thylacine featured on the cover of this book. Mr. Minteer's work certainly did cover that subject, as well as introducing me to new intriguing ideas like the introducing elephants in North America to fill the role left behind by the extinction of the mammoth. However, while these ideas initially got me quite excited... Mr. Minteer takes less pleasure in these ideas. He, and his coauthor's main theme is caution and reflection, instead of charging in and taking drastic action.

Some of their arguments are stronger than others (species dying out to teach man a "lesson" was the most egregious) and they did get me worked up, trying to use my layman's logic to counter their well researched arguments. More importantly, the work made me think. It made me question my beliefs and motives, forcing me to genuinely reflect on my views. It made me want to dig into the topic. In spite of my dislike of quite a few of the authors' points and views, they have succeeded very well in this work.

The book does have a few slow points that drag and one of the early chapters is mostly a defense of a previously published paper.

Ultimately, this is a good book that challenged me, and will certainly influence my views on the ethics of conservation in the future.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley
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