258/366 Rat Island - William Stolzenburg 22 of 25
14 September 2012
Rat Island - William Stolzenburg
What does extinction mean to you? What would it feel like to hold the last of a species in your hand as it takes it's dying breath? Do you really want to know what that feels like? Read this book! Stolzenburg sums up the human drift from the north west pacific down to New Zealand and describes a paradise unimaginable. The serpent in this paradise, however, isn't reptilian but mammalian. Human's introduced rats to these islands that were only inhabited by birds, and the rats found their own paradise, a bountiful source of food that sat there while it was being eaten alive!
A 'few good men' tried in various ways to irradicate the rats, in New Zealand, that included among other things, introducing stoats and weasels (actually to control the introduced rabbits). These killing machines found easier pickings in the native bird life and flowed over the land to every corner and crevice. By the twentieth century bird species had been falling extinct at an alarming rate, not just in NZ but on other islands where humans had arrived anytime from the sixteenth century.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in conservation of species. It shows how systems were developed to clear islands of predators, including goats, pigs, cats and in Alaska, the Artic fox. Stolzenburg does cover some of the opposition to the techniques used, many of which were developed by New Zealanders.
The book moves from New Zealand and its treatened species, focusing on the kakapo (of which there are 127 left) to the Aleutian Islands and touches on a few other island habitats in the Pacific. I found the chapters on the NZ islands and his biographies of Richard Henry and Don Merton, two of New Zealand's 'conservation icons' particularly interesting (surprise surprise). Don Merton named the last remaining Fiordland kakapo after Richard Henry.
An amazing story, a must read. Go find it - NOW before it is too late.
NOTE: I read this book and wrote this review a couple of months ago, since I wrote the above two kakapo have died bringing the number of known birds down to 125.