Reintroduction of Top-Order Predators . Hayward, M. W. and M. J.Somers , editors. 2009. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, United Kingdom. 480 pp. $79.95 (paperback). ISBN 978-1-4051-7680-4.
Images of predators touch the primeval inner self of all humans, from the classic film The Wizard of Oz, from which the title of this review is borrowed, to the mystic representations in every culture, to a certain make of luxury car bearing the name of the largest carnivore in the Neotropics. The reality of predation—both as predator and prey—has accompanied humans from before we had language, learned to draw, or began to work the land. Human evolutionary and cultural paths led to clashes with the natural world, and our relationship with top predators became primarily one of competition. This in turn led to the extinction and extirpation of many species and populations of top predators. Not until the middle of the 20th century did most humans realize the damage being done to the world and consider what it would take to reverse it.
It is high time for this book, edited by Matt Hayward and Michael Somers, to synthesize the critical steps, examples, techniques, and theoretical background required to restore populations of top predators. The book contains 19 chapters by 33 authors from around the world. The chapters represent only a handful of regions, primarily South Africa (five chapters) and the United States (two chapters), and there is one chapter each from Australia, India, Central Asia, Europe, and the Congo Basin. This uneven geographic focus is unavoidable, given that the “book aims to identify the top-order predators that have been studied sufficiently for conservation managers to have confidence in attempting reintroductions.”
Clearly, there is a long and rich history in South Africa of studying and reintroducing many species, including large carnivores. Among the most useful and interesting chapters are those of Lindsey et al., on indicators of the drivers of South African predator conservation; Frankham, on genetic considerations for reintroductions; and Johnsingh and Madhusudan, on tigers in India. Johnsingh and Madhusudan's chapter reiterates the oft-discussed, sad, but realistic observation that before attempting reintroduction, humans need to cope with the threats that pushed carnivores out of ecosystems. This message is a constant in the literature and in this book, from the eloquent Prologue by Hans Kruuk to the valuable take-home message by David Macdonald. The chapter by Kelly and Silver on the suitability of jaguars for reintroduction is interesting and informative, indicating the clear need to expand understanding of this species. Henschel's chapter is a comprehensive effort that discusses the status and future of leopards in the Congo Basin and identifies clearly areas and corridors that are critical to the animal's recovery.
This book is a celebration of carnivore reintroductions that leaves the reader with unavoidable mixed feelings about the successes saving some species and challenges that threaten many others. It also shows the path to saving some species.
After reading this book, I wished for greater involvement of local scientists from developing countries in conservation of top predators. All chapters, except those on South Africa, tigers, and snow leopards, were written by people from Europe, the United States, or Australia. This is justified for chapters dealing with local subjects, such as those chapters on lynx, bears, and dingoes, but it is hardly defensible in the cases of the Congo Basin or Latin America or the conceptual and modeling chapters, such as those on genetics, captive breeding of leopards, social behavior of predators, or modeling of the responses of carnivores to reintroduction. I hope this book opens the door for a second volume on the lessons of reintroduction programs of tropical top-order carnivores and that this volume is written primarily by local experts who are natives of these tropical countries.
The nondescript photograph on the front cover does not lessen the value of this book, which will certainly increase in the coming years. I foresee many authors and researchers referencing specific chapters, testing models discussed, and basing their projects on the information contained within its 459 fluent pages. I strongly recommend this volume to anyone involved in any kind of species reintroduction, top predator or not.