Posted by: atowhee | October 4, 2016


There is little historical evidence for a co-operative relationship between man and the natural world.  From stone age hunters to the dawn of agriculture, from the Black Death to the volcanic demise of Roman Pompeii, man and nature have traded attacks, death and demolition through the ages.  The killing and destruction goes on.  Two recent books deal with different views of the man-nature interaction.

Cat Wars. The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer. By Peter Marra and Chris Santella.  Princeton Press.  216 pages. 2016.  $24.95.

From the widespread curse of toxoplasmosis to the direct killing of wild animals by house cats, this book is a sharp, unforgiving look at what this human-subsidized killer is doing to animals that struggle daily for survival and the chance to reproduce their species. The book tells how a single cat drove the once rare Stephens Island Wren into extinction.  It also recommends a realistic attempt to get feral cats out of the wild.  Spay and release is simply a romantic fell-good exercise not really helping wildlife, say the authors.

The book tersely describes another island victim of housecats: the Alala or Hawaiian Crow.  This one still brings tears to my eyes.  Unknowingly my wife and I were among the last humans to see this bird in the wild.  There is still a captive breeding program but the danger from toxoplasmosis on the cat-infested Big Island may mean this bird will never again fly free in its native home. In 2002 we went to the Big Island on vacation and included a couple birding trips in our plans.  One was a visit to McCandless Ranch south of Kona where the Crows were still present.  The dawn trip up into the mountain forest took us to a large wire cage where several captive Alala were being raised.   A pair of the free-roaming crows came to visit with their fellows.  After some discussion through the wire barriers, the two free crows flew off.  They were 50% of the wild population at that time.  By the end of the year all four wild Hawaiian Crows had died, mostly likely from toxoplasmosis from car feces. The wild cats and their resulting toxoplasmosis-rich deposits persist on the Big Island and any hope of eradicating the cats seems far-fetched.

Australia and New Zealand with their fragile endemic bird populations are world leaders in the work needed to get house cats back into the house. A must read for anybody brave enough to confront the pro-cat forces.  [Disclaimer: my wife and I have a housecat…a HOUSE housecat.]

Landskipping, Painters, Ploughmen and Places. Bloomsbury.  250 pages.  2016.  $35.

Centered on the English countryside this is a look at how man has shaped the outside world over the recent centuries.  This author’s view tends to regard the sheep as a necessary creator of grasslands and open space.  That is not a view shared by most American conservationists. She champions the farmer vs. the developer: “It is unfashionable to champion farmers as stewards of the landscape, but that is where my vote lies.”

I must wonder what she would make of the pollution coming from factory farms of the chemically-enhanced grain or cotton farming on the scale found in much of the U.S.

One place where she strikes a chord I find sympathic–golf courses: “There is nothing life-enhancing for a plant of animal on the average green or fairway. As an environment, a golf course is a fascist state. And a thirsty one.”

More golf courses in Arizona or around Vegas?  Golf does seem to have lost much of its Reagan-era lustre.  Thanks to the Internet and round-the-clock financial manipulation now, many of the folks who once populated golf courses with high fees no longer have the time.  It has become a sport primarily for a certain set of my fellow retirees.  Nobody who must check his or her iPhone every 40 seconds has time to spend hours chasing a little white ball around.


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