“What inspired me to write Rewilding the World was equal parts fascination and fear. Like most people who care about wilderness and wildlife, I was seeing that world disappear: In thePacific Northwest, where I grew up, I have seen old-growth forests stripped bare by clearcutting and logging roads crisscross the mountains, causing severe erosion, leaving clearcut fields baking in the sun, sterile and lifeless. InNew Mexico, where I live now, there are 150 jackrabbits left in state where they were once as common as cactus. We are deforesting and depopulating the natural world, and we are paying an apocalyptic price, in explosive forest fires, changing climate, diminishing water supplies, damaged fisheries and agriculture, and emerging diseases.
So, like many environmentalists, I was galvanized when I heard the phrase “demographic winter,” coined by Michael Soulé to describe an almost-medieval period of biodiversity loss. While alarming, it was also a phrase that inspired hope that scientists were not only well aware of the dangers of this loss but were actively engaged, like biological knights-errant, in fighting back. And they’re fighting in ways previously alien to scientists: joining forces with activists, becoming politicized, reaching out to everyone from the Dalai Lama to the King of Nepal, making radical proposals such as reintroducing lions and elephants inNorth America.
For the past several years, I have traveled extensively throughout all seven continents and to over a dozen countries, reporting on large-scale and transborder conservation projects underway in North, Central, and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, interviewing field biologists looking for ways for jaguars to cross vast Brazilian grasslands-turned-to-monoculture, Masai pastoralists in Kenya whose livestock are raided by leopard and lion, rice farmers in Nepal who spend nights in flimsy tree houses to prevent crop-raiding by wild elephants, and American ranchers who fear the return of the wolf. Along the way, I have learned how to track predators (puma, jaguar, black bear), catch crocodiles by hand, count penguins, and trap species from ocelots to prairie dogs.
Ultimately, I too was radicalized by what I learned. Along with the biologists I’ve written about, I understand that top predators are essential to ecosystems and yearn to see a day when mammoths are resurrected from the permafrost or the extinct Australian thylacine rises again from the DNA of a pup preserved in a museum bottle. But as I came to know some of the people who live alongside creatures that would turn the hair of most Americans—leopards, lions, tigers, rhinos—I also grew to understand the extraordinary sacrifices that will have to be made, and are being made, to make the rewilding vision a reality.”