August 18, 2005

I Don't Think Even Marlin Perkins Would Go For This One

Here in suburbia, homeowners are overrun with raccoons, possums, coyotes and other creatures that used to be shot as vermin. But now, Mutual of Omaha brings you the latest development in anti-development:

Lions in your back yard? Elephants in the driveway? Cheetahs on the terrace? Well, maybe, if a group of prominent ecologists gets to establish a "Pleistocene Park" on the Great Plains.

Authors of the plan -- which appears in today's issue of the journal Nature -- say their idea to transplant African wildlife to North America could save many of the animals from extinction.

Isn't it amazing how often huge progressive ideas are predicated on something that could happen?

Josh Donlan, a graduate student at Cornell University and one of the plan's co-authors, concedes that skeptics may worry more about the people on the Great Plains who could become extinct at the mercy of the lions.

Hey Josh, I have a better idea. Let's set the animals free around Ithaca, New York, instead and see how many folks there like the idea of huge, federally protected predators roaming their neighborhoods. Jeez, has a more obvious "the Midwest is just fly-over country" mentality ever been so bleeding obvious?

"Obviously, gaining public acceptance is going to be a huge issue, especially when you talk about reintroducing predators. There are going to have to be some major attitude shifts. That includes realizing predation is a natural role, and that people are going to have to take precautions."

Gee, ya think? Shifting gears for a moment, isn't it funny how some folks are unable to see that predation is just as natural within the human species? But back on topic, may I suggest that our first precaution is feeding people who propose harebrained schemes like this to the lions?

Nevertheless, the scientists say the relocated animals could restore biodiversity on this continent to a condition closer to what nature was like before humans overran the landscape.

Dirty, filthy, nasty humans. Mostly though, I cannot help thinking of all the unintended consequences that have occurred every time men have introduced exotic animals to a new locale, ussualy for all the best reasons imaginable. But why does it always go unchallenged that things were necessarily better before humans arrived? oh never mind, who needs all that wheat and corn anyway.

The idea of "rewilding" the Great Plains grew from a retreat at Ladder Ranch near Truth or Consequences, N.M., a 155,550-acre spread owned by media mogul and conservationist Ted Turner.

"Conservationist Ted Turner," now that's funny.

The ecologists suggest starting with zoo animals. The perimeters of newly created reserves would be fenced. "We aren't backing a truck up to some dump site in the dark and turning lose a bunch of elephants," says Cornell University ecologist Harry W. Greene, another of the plan's authors.

Don't you love the false dichotomies.

While most modern African species never lived on the American prairie, the scientists believe that today's animals could duplicate the natural roles played by their departed, even larger cousins -- mastodons, camels and saber-toothed cats -- that roamed for more than 1 million years alongside antelope and bison. Relocating large animals to vast ecological parks and private reserves over the next century would begin to restore the balance and offer new ecotourism opportunities.

Strange I thought these already existed in zoos and places like Busch Gardens, not to mention literally dozens of fenced in drive through parks around the country. Of course, progressive ideas know no boundaries, and respect for the lives and property of others can be swept away by fiat as the next omelette is prepared.

Some ecologists said it is important to try such a bold plan. Otherwise, they said, hundreds more species are likely to go extinct in coming decades and entire ecosystems -- such as grasslands -- will fundamentally change.

Yeah, and some bloggers say you're freakin' nuts.

"We're beginning to get backed into a corner," said Terry Chapin of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. "It's something worth trying."

And if it fails? Who pays?

Some scientists and conservationists, however, hoot. "It is not restoration to introduce animals that were never here," says 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?" Other conservationists say the plan would further damage the prospects of African species on their native turf, as well as that continent's hopes for sustainable economic development.

At least there are a few people with some common sense, though there objections must be tempered with the observation that if we could clone saber-tooth tigers and wooly mastadons, they'd probably think it was a good idea too.

Ecologists at Mr. Turner's Ladder Ranch intend to reintroduce the Bolson tortoise right away. These 100-pound burrowers were found across the Southwest, but now survive in a corner of northern Mexico's Chihuahuan Desert.

Key change! Let's go from turning the Midwest into a free range park for predators into placing a few tortoises loose. Such bld first steps.

The extent of Mr. Turner's interest in the larger rewilding plan is not clear.

Oh? Seems clear enough to me.

Mike Phillips, who directs the Turner Endangered Species Fund, was unavailable for comment.

Did someone check to see if he had perhaps been eaten by a lion?

The renewed presence of many large mammals might turn back the ecological clock in a variety of subtle ways.

Might? And these would all be good ways?

For example, elephants eat woody plants that have overtaken grasslands. Could they act as Rototillers to restore the prairie?

Or maybe they could act like avenging demons destroying tractors and irrigation equipment, driving farmers away, causing the cost of grains to rise rapidly, which could lead to the death of more humans, which could make it easier to expand the preserve. Brilliant!

Lions would be a harder sell, particularly to the elk herds that already live there.

How do you sell to an elk herd?

"Lions eat people," Mr. Donlan, the Cornell graduate student, says. "There has to be a pretty serious attitude shift on how you view predators."

And, pray tell, what attitude shift is going to change the nature of lions or people? Oh, and don't forget to confiscate everyone's guns unless you want your experiment to end rather quickly.

Posted by Charles Austin at August 18, 2005 12:53 PM

I love lions even more than the next guy. But if I ever see one in my backyard, I'm going to have a nice trophy for my living room wall.

But I'm good with them sending us mastodons. They're cooler, and less likely to eat my dog.

Posted by: Tanya at 02:26 PM

Are these people crazy? Do they seriously think that animals native to the savannahs of Africa can survive in the climate of the North American plains?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 02:48 PM

They survive in the climate of North American zoos. They'll be fine, as long as they congregate around swimming pools with air conditioned cabanas.

Posted by: Tanya at 09:30 PM