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The Fall of the Wild by Ben A. Minteer
December 2018
Columbia University Press


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The Fall of the Wild

Extinction, De-Extinction, and the Ethics of Conservation
Ben A. Minteer

The passenger pigeon, the great auk, the Tasmanian tiger ― the memory of these vanished species haunts the fight against extinction. Seeking to save other creatures from their fate in an age of accelerating biodiversity loss, wildlife advocates have become captivated by a narrative of heroic conservation efforts. A range of technological and policy strategies, from the traditional, such as regulations and refuges, to the novel ― the scientific wizardry of genetic engineering and synthetic biology ― seemingly promise solutions to the extinction crisis.

In "The Fall of the Wild," ASU School of Life Sciences Professsor Ben A. Minteer calls for reflection on the ethical dilemmas of species loss and recovery in an increasingly human-driven world. He asks an unsettling but necessary question: Might our well-meaning efforts to save and restore wildlife pose a threat to the ideal of preserving a world that isn’t completely under the human thumb? Minteer probes the tension between our impulse to do whatever it takes and the risk of pursuing strategies that undermine our broader commitment to the preservation of wildness. From collecting wildlife specimens for museums and the wilderness aspirations of zoos to visions of “assisted colonization” of new habitats and high-tech attempts to revive long-extinct species, he explores the scientific and ethical concerns vexing conservation today. 

"The Fall of the Wild" is a nuanced treatment of the deeper moral issues underpinning the quest to save species on the brink of extinction and an accessible intervention in debates over the principles and practice of nature conservation.


Ben A. Minteer is an environmental ethicist and conservation scholar at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences. He writes about species extinction, wilderness, zoos and the evolution of American environmental thought and practice. Minteer holds the Arizona Zoological Society Endowed Chair at ASU, a position established by the Maytag family. 

Praise for this book

"In this pithy set of essays Minteer tackles some of the thorniest questions we face as caring citizens and dwellers on the Earth. As human environmental effects accelerate and our technological capacities expand, we face complex decisions involving where and when and how to intervene in ecosystems in the name of conservation. With clarity and circumspection Minteer examines our assumptions about wildness, our human capacity to live with it (or without it), and the far-reaching ethical implications of our choices."

Curt Meine
Author, Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work

"The central ethical question addressed by Minteer is not only how far we might go to prevent biological extinction but also how far should we go. He comes to this conundrum as a distinguished environmental philosopher with a broad and deep record of thoughtful scholarship, as well as the heart of someone who obviously cares about the future of nature. And most importantly, at a time when answering the question is ever more urgent, he plots a carefully explicated, cautiously hopeful course forward."

Harry W. Greene
Author of "Tracks and Shadows: Field Biology as Art"