Food and Nutrition
Peace and Nonviolence
Trees and Forests
Meant to Be Wild
The Struggle to Save Endangered Species through Captive Breeding
by Jan DeBlieu
302 pages, paperback, Fulcrum, 1993
To what extent are we altering the fundamental nature of wild creatures to save them from
extinction? Meant to Be Wild tells the story of North American animals that have been
taken prisoner by scientists in an effort to save their species from extinction, and speculates
on the effects captivity will have on future generations.
Praise for Meant to Be Wild
"Jan DeBlieu's pioneering investigation is lively, observant, thoughtful and caring. It
is absolutely worth reading." -- Peter Steinhart, Audubon.
"Meant to Be Wild is an excellent book on every level. It has the excitement of a
good detective story, the integrity of accurate and diligent research, the characters of
a well-constructed novel, and the drama of empathetic scientists finding the key to returning
depleted species to the wild." -- Ann Zwinger
Selected as one of the Best Sci-Tech books of 1991 by Library Journal.
Nature Book Society Main Selection.
Quotes from Meant to Be Wild
"The fall and winter of 1987-88 was one of the hardest periods the men and women who worked
on the red wolf reintroduction would ever face. The recapture of the Phantom Road female
stripped us of any naivete. We had known all along that the wolves might wander, and that
under law their movements would have to be restricted. What we did not anticipate was how
quickly one would leave the refuge, and how cunningly wild she would behave when we arrived
to bring her back.
"I was not part of the full-time staff for the project, just an occasional helper. Within
weeks after all the wolves were released, however, I had begun to wonder how much the reintroduction
could accomplish. The cypress grove where the Phantom Road female had chosen to hide was
dry, full of good cover, and right next to farm fields that attracted rabbits, rodents, and
deer. In contrast, the land within the Alligator River refuge was some of the swampiest,
most inhospitable in the region. It was the kind of land the wolves themselves would probably
avoid if given their pick of places to roam. Was it fair to restrict them to such marginal
habitat and expect them to thrive?"
"Derrickson hoped to reduce the psychological trauma of being handled sexually, which appeared
to affect the birds profoundly. His methods were scientifically sound. But like George Archibald,
he and his assistants approached the cranes with uncommon patience and compassion. Under
Derrickson's direction, the insemination team worked cautiously, and members revised their
techniques depending on how individual birds responded to them. It might be said that, rather
than raping the cranes, Derrickson's team seduced them."
"How might we be changing the animals? The question demands continual reexamination. Under
deep ecology, and the religions of many aboriginal cultures as well, a wild creature cannot
exist outside its natural context. Take it from the mountainside or the forest where it lives,
and it becomes something else. If our self-centered view of the universe is ever to change,
we must begin to understand the world as a fragile filigree of earth, water, plants and creatures.
Wrenching animals out of their ecological niches does little to help us toward this goal.
"We have backed ourselves, unwittingly, into a philosophical corner. By accepting captive
breeding as a necessary evil, we cast our lot unequivocally with the technocrats. We can
only hope that careful science will shape the animals as nature would have shaped them, without
subtly altering their physical and psychological make-up. We must gamble that we will not
drastically disrupt the process of their evolution. And we assume, perhaps wrongfully, that
we are not destroying important social and cultural traditions that may affect the ability
of reintroduced animals to survive."
"What the animals need, more than anything we can offer, is for their wild flocks and herds
to be left intact, and their indigenous lands to be left unaltered. Captive breeding is a
technical solution to a philosophical problem, the problem of our potential to vastly reshape
the natural world. I came away from Front Royal with the utmost respect for the wildlife
scientists with whom I had talked, but with a growing dread that unless attitudes can be
changed toward animals--unless people in all parts of the world can be taught to cherish
the frailty, the ephemeral beauty, and the importance of wildness in its true, unadulterated
form--the final goal of captive breeding will never be attained.
"Through breeding programs we offer animals time and safe haven, nothing more. The pleasant
pastures at the Front Royal center will never be developed or poorly farmed, and poachers
will never hide in the wooded groves. I wished with all my heart that the same could be said
for the distant velds and snow fields and jungles where animals still run free."
Table of Contents of Meant to Be Wild
- Return to the East
- The First Spring
- Rescue Mission
- A New Freedom
- A Chorus of Wolves
- A Ruinous Legacy
- The Need for Compassion: The Whooping Crane and the Peregrine Falcon
- Leaving the Ark: The Arabian Oryx and the Golden Lion Tamarin
- The Essence of Wildness
- A Single Struggling Flock: The Puerto Rican Parrot
- The Soul of the Condor
- Stepping Back from Extinction: The Black-footed Ferret
- The Panther Versus Florida