Foreword to the
By Paul S. Martin, author of Twilight of the Mammoths
Baz Edmeades was trained as a lawyer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg where he grew up, and at McGill University in Montreal. His Canadian law practice focused on science and technology. Since the early Nineties, his secret life as an anthropologist, big-game ecologist, and recorder of African natural history has gradually supplanted his legal activities. I first met Baz in 1997, at the American Museum of Natural History program on Pleistocene extinctions organized by Ross MacPhee.
In my chapter in Quaternary Extinctions 1984 (University of Arizona Press, edited by Martin and Klein) I argued that early-mid Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions in Africa were unusually severe compared with the Americas. The generic losses focused on (1) the Proboscidea; (2) large to giant suid pigs; and (3) large primates besides hominids.
These early African extinctions, more drawn-out and less explosive than those that ravaged the megafauna of the Americas near the end of the Pleistocene, were, I speculated, what one might expect if evolving hominids were gaining traction, “out-competing” suids and the less potent large primates and even elephants (Deinotherium) unaccustomed to wily, gregarious predators.
I did not pursue that idea in my Twilight of the Mammoths. In this online book, Baz has, however, constructed a comprehensive and persuasive argument that these early African extinctions were caused by the rise of hominid ingenuity, and that they were, therefore, an integral part of a process that would later culminate in the intense and abrupt “near-time” extinctions that would irrupt in the Americas, Australia, Madagascar, New Zealand and the smaller islands of the Pacific. In making that argument, Baz has produced the best treatment of human evolution and environmental impact over the last few millions of years, that I have seen.
His book conveys the extinction record and its meaning in a friendly and unpretentious, and at the same time authoritative way. No one, academic paleontologists included, has told this intercontinental story, so important and so long neglected, so well. Baz’s writing is splendid, subtle on occasion, seemingly understated, pianissimo, then suddenly FF, and spot on. I love the occasional drive-by, such as the paragraph in Chapter 1 in which he takes the measure of the environmentalist David Suzuki, who is (I imagine), well intended, but fatally misguided and misguiding.
Read and enjoy,
Paul S. Martin,
August 14, 2006.