Where Do Camels Belong: Why Invasive Species Aren’t All Bad by Ken Thompson


CAMELS COVER“Ken Thompson’s fascinating and highly readable book takes us on a tour of the way that ecologists have made invasive species public enemies without any good basis.”
Popular Science

 Camels evolved in North America 40 million years ago, and the largest camel that ever lived, the Titanotylopus, made its home in Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, and Arizona. They eventually spread to South America, Africa, and Asia—places we think of when we consider where camels thrive today. Unfortunately for Titanotylopus, the camels that were living in North America went extinct about 8,000 years ago. If we were to ask, “Where do camels belong today? If we reintroduced camels into the US, would they be considered native or invasive? How would they affect the other native species?”

In a controversial new book WHERE DO CAMELS BELONG? Why Invasive Species Aren’t All Bad (Greystone Books; September 9, 2014, $17.95, 978-1-77164-096-1), Ken Thompson investigates an array of invasive and natural species to determine how much we really need to fear alien invaders, such as the tamarisk. This non-native plant is accused of wasting water and turning soil salty. The end result has been damage to the surrounding native plant species that can’t endure saline soil. But building dams and pumping and redistributing water has allowed a viable habitat for the tamarisk while causing other plants to vanish. Is it fair to blame it all on a plant that was allowed so much freedom for growth?

With sharp insight and wit, WHERE DO CAMELS BELONG? points out that while we blame certain invasive species, there are native and human-introduced plants and animals that are under our radar, potentially doing more damage. Alien species seem practically designed to excite public opinion, and Thompson takes on that idea to dig down into the most crucial questions: are invasive species guilty as charged, and are natives always the good guys? What is so special about human agency? And if an animal is extinct and reintroduced 8,000 years later, does that still make the animal “native”?

WHERE DO CAMELS BELONG? is a provocative exploration of “invasive” versus “natural,” that questions our public concern of invasive species, and asks us to consider whether they really are contributing to climate change or threatening biodiversity.

Dr. Ken Thompson has combined a career lecturing in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield with writing on gardening for the Daily Telegraph. He has written five other books, including Do We Need Pandas: The Uncomfortable Truth About Biodiversity. He lives in the United Kingdom.