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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

  1. Return to the East
  2. The First Spring
  3. Rescue Mission
  4. A New Freedom
  5. A Chorus of Wolves
  6. A Ruinous Legacy
  7. The Need for Compassion: The Whooping Crane and the Peregrine Falcon
  8. Leaving the Ark: The Arabian Oryx and the Golden Lion Tamarin
  9. The Essence of Wildness
  10. A Single Struggling Flock: The Puerto Rican Parrot
  11. The Soul of the Condor
  12. Stepping Back from Extinction: The Black-footed Ferret
  13. The Panther Versus Florida
  14. Epilogue

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