Book Review: Pests, Bethany Brookshire

Book Review: Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains, Bethany Brookshire


Nonfiction: Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains, Bethany Brookshire


Young boys can be mean. I know this, because I was once a young boy. We had a neighbor a little younger than me. Doug was annoying, probably as annoying as I was at his age, but I was older so his type of annoying was very annoying to me. In a dearth of kindness and an abundance of nastiness I began calling him “Doug the bug.” (Not quite to Dorothy Parker standards.) Looking back in absolute shame and embarrassment, I realize that my labeling him a pest says much more about me than it ever said about him. Doug, if you ever read this, I’m truly sorry.


Pests says a lot about us. Humans, that is. Animals get labeled pests because they live in places where we don’t want them and do things we don’t want them to do. Raccoons get into our trash, as do bears. Deer eat our plants. Mice poop in our kitchen cupboards. Cane toads ignore the beetles they were imported to eat and go after local insects instead–and poison the predators that try to snack on them. Elephants knock down fences, monkeys steal food, pigeons make an awful mess, and the list goes on.


Often, though, the problem is with us. We build houses on land that used to be the Everglades, then get upset when alligators like our swimming pools. We let our pet pythons and iguanas loose when they get too big for us, and they opt to keep living their python and iguana lives in Florida as though they were retired New Yorkers. We imported a few cute little bunnies to Australia. Some of them escaped and started breeding like, well, you know. All of these are simply animals doing what animals do. They just started doing it in places where they had few natural predators.


Sometimes our efforts to solve our pest problems end up creating new pest problems. Cats will eat rats–but flightless birds and their chicks are much easier prey so why bother the rats that are eating the birds’ eggs? I mean, for the cats it’s quite logical (and I’m sure the rats wholeheartedly agree). Cane toads do eat sugar cane beetles. But if they hop out of the sugar cane farm–and toads do like to hop–they can find a much more varied menu. And if something decides to try to eat a cane toad, it quickly becomes its last supper. Some creatures emit a foul taste to warn predators not to eat them. Cane toads don’t waste time with warnings.


Animals can go through phases where they are considered pests then redeemed, or considered beneficial and then go rogue. Again, this is always from the human’s perspective. The beautiful rock doves of Europe were brought to the US by breeders and fanciers who kept them in coops and showed them off. When they escaped, they liked the country as much as the white interlopers who brought them here. Now, “pigeons” are considered “rats with wings.” Through no fault of their own, these animals morphed from prize treasures and cuisine delicacies to urban blights. Elephants enjoy farmers’ grain in Africa and Asia. Pity the poor fence, or house, or human, standing between an elephant and dinner. Elephants attract the wonder and visitation of people from around the world, but the local humans who have to deal with their destructiveness are not as well-positioned to appreciate their majesty.


Bethany Brookshire writes with flair and fun. She puts a lot of her humor into the book, with one liners at the expense of humans and animals alike. (Probably the humans get more out of the jokes than the animals do.) If there is a cliche to be found, she will use it in such a way to wink and nod at the reader so we can share the joke with her. (I shamelessly stole the line about rabbit breeding habits from her, but we’ve already discussed my ethical shortcomings.) Pests is a book that challenges our thinking about the animals that share this world with us, and encourages us to reevaluate our anthrocentric views of the natural world.


Book Review: Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains, Bethany Brookshire

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.