Dan Flores’s American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains is a natural history of six iconic animals species. These include bison, pronghorn, grizzlies, coyotes, wolves, and wild horses. Each chapter goes into great detail about the history and importance of each of these animals. Flores also persuades the reader why we must rewild them.
I’ve reviewed Flores’s Coyote America (highly recommended!) so the chapter on coyotes covered a lot of the same ground. But combined with the section on wolves, as well as grizzlies, we realize how important predators are to an ecosystem. It is too easy to take anecdotal incidences where a rancher loses some livestock and lose focus on the big picture. Animals at the top of the food chain make the entire ecosystem function properly.
The chapters on bison and pronghorn are enlightening as well. Both species are holdovers from way way back in time. The pronghorn developed much of its survival skills during a period where ultra fast predators could hunt them down. Now only their young are vulnerable to predation (if we ignore that done by humans).
Perhaps my favorite animal-based chapter was that on wild horses. We tend to think of horses as introduced and then domesticated. However, horses developed in the American west before it was America. They are built for the Great Plains and after disappearing, were brought back. This chapter is really worth the read as wild horses face a lot of conservation-based battles. And of course, we love horses!
The final chapter discusses missed opportunities of making a grand, Yellowstone-esque National Park in the Great Plains. Much of this region has been and continues to be overlooked for its scenic value. A lot of it is not bold and “vertical” like canyons and mountains. But the ecosystem as a whole is vital to wildlife as well as humanity.
Flores discusses not only the failures of securing a large, protected space. He also gives hope in the many organizations out there looking to preserve this landscape. Most notably is the American Prairie Reserve, an organization that I love and support. APR has ambitions goals of connecting 3.5 million acres to do what the National Park Service failed to do in the 20th century.
There is great hope that if enough people can come together, we can make a truly sustainable and wonderful ecosystem to be enjoyed by all. The American Serengeti is where this can happen.
Learn more about the American Prairie Reserve and consider supporting them.