Date of this Version
The Prairie Naturalist 49:41–42; 2017
Before describing what Flores’ book is, I must state what it is not. It is not a technical book designed for scholarly readers. Sources are not fully cited, and the bibliography is of limited scope. Nor is it a comprehensive book of all the megafauna of the Great Plains. Although chapters are devoted to extant species such as American bison (Bison bison), pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), and coyote (Canis latrans), there are only passing references to mule and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus and O. virginianus, respectively), elk (Cervus canadensis), and bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). Rather, Flores devotes chapters to grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and wolves (Canus lupus), two species that are essentially absent from the current Great Plains. Interestingly, the modern horse (Equus caballus), recently returned to the region by Europeans, is afforded a chapter. The somewhat arbitrary list of species could have been selected by the author because he viewed them as the epitome of Great Plains wildlife, or because they best told the story of the relationship that humans have had with large Great Plains animals, or because the author simply had a personal interest in those species. Flores mentions, but doesn’t weigh in on the sensitive topic of what caused the extinction of most of the region’s megafauna about 10,000 years ago (e.g., aboriginal people), when the Great Plains truly rivaled the Serengeti in terms of large animal diversity.
I think it fair to say that this isn’t really a book about the large animals of the Great Plains, but rather, is about the people and cultures that essentially destroyed one Great Plains ecosystem and replaced it with another. Ultimately, this is a book about societies, cultural attitudes toward nature, and the psyche of the people who pulled the triggers. For that goal, it succeeds.