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Longevity, toughness and wisdom are the qualities we associate with this iconic animal. Craig B. Stanford shows how their habitat is threatened and takes us to the markets where they are sold for food, as pets and even as soup bowls...He writes about conservationists and their efforts to combat extinction risk, but he is not hopeful: "Once the wild populations are virtually exterminated," a few will "hang on only in zoos and in the hands of wealthy private collectors. They will no longer be a species in the evolutionary sense. They will just be a scattered gene pool, a few protected, priceless animals locked up in cages." Here's a chance to know a little about them before they are gone.--Susan Salter Reynolds"Los Angeles Times" (05/16/2010)
[Stanford's] reporting here is professional and remarkably thorough, but tinged with anger and sadness at the senselessness of the crisis.--Greg Ross"American Scientist" (07/01/2010)
Stanford utilized his expertise in primate anthropology and his field experiences with turtles in the Galipagos and Mascarene islands to produce an easily readable and exceptionally informative, if somewhat depressing, narrative on globally threatened turtles, collectively called tortoises.--E. D. Keiser"Choice" (11/01/2010)
Stanford writes in an engaging, storytelling style that speaks of his passion for the topic and his personal experiences both as a young naturalist and a seasoned biologist. He details the importance of tortoises to the various ecosystems they inhabit and builds a case for our need to be concerned about their declining population sizes, both from the standpoint of tortoise species and whole ecosystems.--Eleanor Sterling"Times Higher Education" (05/13/2010)
About the Author
Craig B. Stanford is Professor in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at the University of Southern California.
Top customer reviews
The author wonders in his end-piece why his researches and writing of this book was so cheerfully and enthusiastically encouraged by his peers when most of them are senior in years, experience and service. They were apparently generous and open in their endorsement of Stanford's working to produce this powerful book.
If so, they clearly and wisely saw a good thing coming.
Actually, they must have been over-joyed to welcome such an erudite and eloquent writer onto their case. Stanford pulls no punches, spades are called spades, black-holes are firmly identified and labelled as 'Chinese' when they are so undeniably chinese (tens of millions of turtles and tortoises are bought, stolen, mass-reared and consumed each and every year to feed the burgeoning east asian market). Western collectors and 'breeders' get similarly lambasted for their rapacity and relentlessness in fuelling the pet trade. Mortality wholesale is the result for tortoises. Stanford emphasizes the fleeting nature of all this plundering of a dwindling resource. We have single digit years left, not decades.
What emerges with equal poignancy is that tortoises are an Acid Test for modern humans. Perhaps God is deriving some wry sport by testing us here..."Hey - bet you can't let them live..."
Because it's just too easy. OF COURSE we'll kill them off. They can't run away from us, they breed slowly, live slowly, yield tasty nutritous flesh, proffer a useful shell, won't bite us, can't poison us, won't cry out at us in an affecting way to tug at our heart-strings. No cuddly looks or mournful doe eyes need disturb our dreams. Tortoises are the perfect smuggling cargo, they can endure hideous deprivation, alive or dead they are high-value items. Borders which are so resolutely defended by tuff-arsed military are idiotically porous to smuggled wildlife.
How can modern humans do anything BUT destroy tortoises? Rainforests, grasslands, wilderness are all being busily razed, tortoises are merely a pathetic red cherry falling off the top. Easy. Easy. Way too easy.
Good-bye tortoises. And thanks for all the flesh.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I give it 4 because I think the author achieved his aim; I am now aware of the plight of tortoises, I feel concerned about tortoises, and I won't eat any (which I wouldn't have anyway, but now I definetly won't).
On the other hand, I usually really enjoy scientific animal tales, and yet I rarely felt totally engaged by this book. I would start to get sucked in, and then, fade out again. I wonder if the issue was that the author is talking about all tortoises in general rather than a single species? In this way, he rarely can't go into more than a small story of any particular tortoise group or research project - so you end up feeling like you know tortoises sort of, like the people who live at the end of the street, rather than very well like your neighbor or friend you hang out with.
Tortoises no longer feel like total strangers (at least for people who start out without knowing much about tortoises) and I would be interested to know more about them, but I still don't feel I really know any particular group of tortoises very well.
It's true that the tortoise family is being immensely affected by anthropogenic influences - habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, pet dogs, rattlesnake roundups, hunting, you name it. They are unable to recover due to their delayed sexual maturity and relatively low fecundity. The very qualities of a tortoise that make them so unassuming and sweet to us are the reasons that they have been such an easy target. I was really happy to see that someone has finally taken the time to address all the issues that tortoises face. While sea turtles are most definitely threatened, they command more media attention than a tortoise ever would. The fact of the matter is, a piece of the puzzle is gone every time a species vanishes. The gopher tortoise is a keystone species, providing homes for over 300 other species within the burrows it constructs. Only 3% of viable tortoise habitat remains that existed 200 years ago. When they are gone, all the other species that rely on their burrows for refuge will also go.
I would like to extend a "thank-you" to Dr. Stanford for writing this book. While it is not always uplifting, I am glad that more people will know about the tortoise's plight. Hopefully, some of them will decide to go out and learn more about it :)
Larry Cartmill, Ph.D.
The fact is that no one knows better how to keep and breed reptiles than the herpetoculturists who are dedicated them, and people in this hobby have bred more reptiles in captivity and increased the numbers of these animals more than any zoo or high-minded academic EVER will. The idea that leaving the animals in the wild is going to fix the problem is totally unrealistic. If it was, golden toads would still be around, for example. Radiated tortoises, some of the rarest tortoises in the world, are now routinely bred in captivity, and many blood-lines are available. Same thing for Egyptian tortoises, star tortoises, etc.
That is my problem with this book. It's great to try and preserve tortoises in the wild, and I hope the author is successful, but to attack herpetoculture the way he does, claiming it has nothing to offer, is just plain ignorance and/or prejudice. Some of the best reptile breeders in the world don't work in a zoo or have their doctorate, so spare me the arrogance Dr. Stanford.
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