[permaculture] Lions and elephants on the Great Plains?

mIEKAL aND 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  
conservation debate.
"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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