Michael Tobias
Nature's Keepers: On the Front Lines of the Fight to Save Wildlife in America

"The theft or destruction of a lifeless thing, should we possess it, throws us out of whack, by and large, more thoroughly than a massacre of other species. And a person who writes a few bad checks or steals a loaf of bread is likely to receive greater punishment than someone who tortures a horse or kills a chimpanzee."
I found Nature's Keepers to be very difficult reading at first. This wasn't due of the reading level of the book but because I was expecting a style and format different from what I got. I was imagining a scholarly/scientific approach so the initial quips and quotes from places like large newspapers left me cringing. However, once I began to accept the book for what it is--sort of a documentary style set of anecdotal stories--Nature's Keepers became very absorbing.

Of particular interest were chapters three through five which deal with "Operation Renegade", a father-son team which illegally killed thousands of animals, and a program of the US Federal Government called Animal Damage Control (ADC) which basically reverses much of the effort put forth by other segments of the Government (like the USF&W) by killing millions of animals a year. In these chapters we meet a variety of people who Tobias interviewed for the book. Their stories bring a more human, down-to-earth element to the text as a whole. One of these people is Tom Skeele who founded Predator Project which seeks to protect (or at least leave alone) the animals that the ADC continues to eradicate.

The ADC, as Tobias describes it, is a very strange organization which is supposed to protect the interests of some businesses (rather than have businesses pay their own costs of installing fences or obtaining guard dogs). Tobias thinks that ADC may kill more wildlife than all the domestic poachers combined. This is highly ironic given that the government also has set up wildlife law enforcement to curtail the poachers. Taxpayers will feel like they are paying to take care of and create the problem. The methods used by ADC to kill are also troubling. Poisons are used in uncontrolled environments which are then passed up the food chain. Over $50 million dollars are spent annually on this eradication ($41,244,708 of the 1995 dollars coming from Federal taxpayer dollars).

While the book is frequently troubling--even depressing--some optimistic points are brought out. Unfortunately, I think Tobias has missed the larger picture and addresses the problem and symptoms rather than the real root cause(s). For instance, Nature's Keepers focuses on poaching and the ADC killings rather than the effects of the human population problem. Only once, and in passing, does Tobias mention that decreasing habitat is actually the number one cause of wildlife extinction and overall decrease in the number of animals. While describing the subsidies ranchers obtain via the ADC and other government programs, he forgets to mention that the only reason there is so much commercial ranch and farm property continually eating away at more and more natural habitat and causing ecological havoc is the ever increasing population of humans is fueling demand. Even if individual efforts are strengthened at becoming more environmentally friendly, the net result will hardly be felt by wildlife if human populations continue to double every few decades.

With the exception of the paragraph on how individuals can change their opinions and behaviors much faster than governments or organizations (i.e. that the hope is in individuals to become educated and change rather than wait for governments or other organizations to lead the way), the "Conclusion" chapter was anti-climatic. More problems and statistics were mentioned but the picture the book painted was not completed. Doctrines favorable to wildlife from various religions were mentioned (those unfavorable which are far more numerous in many religions were carefully omitted) as if these kind of band-aid solutions will really get to a core solution.

The problems Tobias points out are very real. Some of his selective evidence is overly biased which will make it difficult to win converts from the camps that aren't already leaning his way. Portions of the book, however, (especially Chapters 3, 4, and 5) will be appealing to those interested in entertaining documentaries and/or the current wildlife situation.

From the publisher:
A critically-acclaimed nature writer blows the lid off an alarming epidemic of wildlife poaching.

In an eloquent and compelling narrative, Michael Tobias offers an unprecedented look at the culture of hunting and the clandestine poaching rings that are decimating many of the world's most beloved and exotic species. Based on more than 100 interviews with poachers and hunters as well as National Parks Service rangers, legal experts, public informants, and animal rights activists, this crucial account is at once a chilling portrait of the threat to wildlife, and an urgent and rational call to specific, preventive action.

Provides fascinating insider details of a national "sting" operation called "Operation Renegade," the biggest anti-poaching operation in U.S. history. Discusses specific endangered species, including grizzly bears, elk, eagles, and mountain lions.

Michael Tobias (Santa Monica, CA) is an award-winning writer and independent film producer specializing in work on the environment. The author of 18 other books, both fiction and nonfiction, Tobias directed the acclaimed 10-hour miniseries Voice of the Planet and the Cine Golden Eagle Award-winning documentary, Blue Tide.