[permaculture] Lions and elephants on the Great Plains?
dtv at mwt.net
Thu Aug 18 13:15:01 EDT 2005
Lions and elephants on the Great Plains?
Scientists suggest relocating African species to North America
Thursday, August 18, 2005; Posted: 12:00 p.m. EDT (16:00 GMT)
DENVER, Colorado (AP) -- If a group of prominent ecologists have
their way, lions and elephants could someday be roaming the Great
Plains of North America.
The idea of transplanting African wildlife to this continent is being
greeted with gasps and groans from other scientists and
conservationists who recall previous efforts to relocate foreign
species halfway around the world, often with disastrous results.
But the proposal's supporters say it could help save some species
from extinction in Africa, where protection is spotty and habitats
are vanishing. They say the relocated animals could also restore the
biodiversity in North America to a condition closer to what it was
before humans overran the landscape more than 10,000 years ago.
Most modern African species never lived on the American prairie, the
scientists acknowledge. But some of their biological cousins like
mastodons, camels and saber-toothed cats, roamed for more than 1
million years alongside antelope and herds of bison until Ice Age
glaciers retreated and humans started arriving.
The rapid extinction of dozens of large mammal species in North
America -- perhaps due to a combination of climate change and
overhunting -- triggered a landslide of changes to the environmental
landscape. Relocating large animals to vast ecological parks and
private reserves would begin to repair the damage, proponents say,
while offering new ecotourism opportunities to a withering region.
The scientists' plan appears in Thursday's issue of the journal
Nature. It is attracting interest from some influential circles,
including CNN founder Ted Turner, America's largest private
landowner. He owns huge ranches in several states to support his
commercial bison operation and personal conservation initiatives.
But the plan is also generating criticism on both sides of the
"It is not restoration to introduce animals that were never here,"
said University of Washington anthropologist Donald K. Grayson. "Why
introduce Old World camels and lions when there are North American
species that could benefit from the same kind of effort?"
Others wonder whether people would support African lions making a
home on the range, given the opposition to the reintroduction of
native wolves in the rural West.
"Just when you think the world has gotten as weird as it can get,
something like this comes along," said Steve Pilcher, executive vice
president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
"I wonder how many calves or lambs it would take to feed a family of
lions for a month?" Pilcher mused. "We sort of know what it takes for
wolves, but something tells me we would be in a whole new ball game."
Some wildlife conservationists said the idea would further damage the
prospects of both threatened species and Africa's hopes for
sustainable economic development.
"Such relocations would affect future tourism opportunities for
Africa," said Elizabeth Wamba, the East Africa spokeswoman for the
International Fund for Animal Welfare in Nairobi, Kenya. "The welfare
of the animals would have been reduced by transporting and exposing
them to different eco-climatic conditions."
Critics also point to calamitous relocations of foreign species in
Australia. Rabbits brought from Europe swarmed across parts of the
Outback, and noxious cane toads brought from South America to control
bugs in sugar cane fields killed native wildlife.
The authors of the new plan say they are not discouraged.
"We are not saying this is going to be easy," said Cornell University
ecologist Josh Donlan, the lead author of the proposal. "There are
huge and substantial risks and obstacles."
The plan grew from a retreat at Turner's New Mexico ranch -- a
155,000-acre property in the foothills of the Gila Mountains that
contains a mix of ecosystems ranging from desert grasslands to pine
Ecologists are using the ranch to experiment with reintroducing the
Bolson tortoise to the region. These 100-pound burrowers were once
found across the Southwest, but now survive only in a corner of
northern Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert.
The scientists' discussion expanded to consider long-extinct
Pleistocene species that have modern counterparts elsewhere in the
For example, a larger American cheetah once stalked pronghorn on
these lands, with both species evolving special features that enabled
them to accelerate to 60 mph. Today, pronghorns rarely are chased,
except by the occasional pickup truck.
In Africa, modern cheetahs are being exterminated as vermin, with
fewer than 2,000 remaining in some countries. Relocation could help
both species retain important traits, the plan's proponents say.
Other living species that are counterparts to Pleistocene-era animals
in North America include wild horses and asses, Bactrian camels,
elephants and lions.
Donlan concedes that lions would be a tough sell to Americans.
"Lions eat people," he said. "There has to be a pretty serious
attitude shift on how you view predators."
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