Pleistocene Rewilding: Is it really a good idea?

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Recently a concept known as pleistocene rewilding has arisen within the conservation community. This idea is the cause of great controversy as it suggests we should introduce descendants of extinct pleistocene megafauna to ecosystems where their ancestors once roamed. This would mean releasing species such as lions (Panthera leo), tigers (Panthera tigris), and elephants (Loxodonta africana) into the Great Plains region of North America or bringing a species of rhino into Europe.

While restoring species to an ecosystem in which they, or at least their ancestors, evolved may seem like a good idea at first we must take a closer look at the implications of such an action. These species have been absent from these habitats for thousands of years, most since the end of the last ice age. These systems have continued to evolve without these species. In many places new species have arisen to fill the ecological void left by the extinction of these ancient species. Sure, there are examples of niches which have not been filled (for instance, no predator other than man has found a way to hunt the American pronghorn since the extinction of the American cheetah), but this does not mean we should intervene. More often than not introductions of species do not end well. I of course must cite the example of introduced species such as pythons and kudzu.

Some argue that it was the actions of ancient humans rather than natural selection which pushed these species into extinction. Whether this is true or not it does not justify the introduction of their modern descendants into ecosystems which have adapted to the lack of these pleistocene megafauna. Currently we have greater conservation issues at hand such as deforestation, poaching of rhinos, declining grassland birds, and deterioration of reefs to worry about something frivolous like pleistocene rewilding.

Additional readings:

Bringing wild rhinos into Europe proposal “red herring and won’t fly” – News – News – Voice of Russia UK, Voice of Russia – UK Edition.

Pleistocene Rewilding– in North America

Pleistocene Rewilding, Frankenstein Ecosystems, and an Alternative Conservation Agenda – Oliveira-Santos – 2010 – Conservation Biology – Wiley Online Library.

JSTOR: The American Naturalist, Vol. 168, No. 5 November 2006, pp. 660-681.

Rants from the Hill: Pleistocene rewilding — High Country News.


Articles on evolution

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Evolution: How the rhino got his woolly | The Economist.

Fossil of Ancient Hairy Creature Reveals Clues About Mammal Ancestors – Yahoo! News.

Tiny Ancestor of Lions, Tigers & Bears Discovered (Oh My!) – Yahoo News.

Would giving in to the Asian market help protect wildlife

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‘Give in to Asian market’ – Times LIVE.

Animal Rights vs Conservation and Human Rights

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A friend of mine posted this recently and I thought it would appropriate to share here.

Animal Rights vs Conservation and Human Rights
17 Sep 2012

The debate on animal rights vs conservation has seen a third contender rising from the ashes – human rights.

In reaction to an article in last week’s Pot-Shot, reader “Johan” posed the question whether some people “would rather support saving rhinos than helping an orphaned human life”. It is fine to look after animals, but “not neglect

ing our accountability in looking after each other.”Tanya Jacobsen, campaign manager of RhinoDotCom, says animal rights vs conservation “emerges as a ‘war’ between the two schools of thought and one that has degenerated to aggression, violence, disrespect and blatant hatred. We would like to clarify some aspects of the main concepts.

Essentially, the two views are literally worlds apart with Animal Welfare featuring somewhere in between:

The Wildlife Society maintains that anyone who has an understanding of social issues in Africa will know that Animal Rights principles simply cannot work here. Where it has been attempted to a large degree, for example in Kenya, it has failed miserably and many of the local people’s livelihoods have been severely negatively affected. This in turn led to disastrous consequences for indigenous wildlife.

Regarding SA’s rhino situation, :calls against legal trade in horn and rhino farming are often heard from various groups and individuals, based on animal rights principles. We respond as follows:

“Our rhinos have the right to be worth more alive than dead. They have the right not to be brutally and indiscriminately slaughtered for their horn when we can keep them healthy and happy and provide their horn to those who want it, without having to harm the animals.

“Our rhinos have the right to be protected by us.

“They have the right to breed and live in safety.

“They have the right to be afforded any measure, as long as it is not cruel, that will save them from joining the ranks of the many species that have already gone extinct, due to the unwise, misguided and ill-informed practices of humans. “

An interesting write-up on Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare has been posted here: http://www.ncraoa.com/AR_VS_AW.html. A great amount of detail and statistics are offered on this website to enhance knowledge by questioning and cross-referencing data.

An opposing viewpoint by Animal Rights Africa (ARA) is offered here: http://www.animalrightsafrica.org/EthicalConservation.php
ARA uses extreme language to denounce people who promote sustainable use, saying that “it is elements within the WUM that consistently resort to violence, including murder, to achieve their objectives. And, all too often, ethical environmentalists and animal rightists are the victims of this violence.”

They involve politics in their arguments, alleging that: “Sustainable utilisation is also a smokescreen, used by recreational animal-killers and others who, for reasons of political expediency, job security or greed, wish to win favour with human communities and populations that were previously oppressed under apartheid or colonialist rule, and who now hold the fate of wildlife and environmental conservation in their hands.”

In the book, Game Changer, award-winning environmental reporter Glen Martin finds that the policies championed by animal welfare groups could lead paradoxically to the elimination of the very species – including elephants and lions – that are the most cherished. Martin revisits the debate between conservationists, who believe that people whose lives are directly impacted by the creation of national parks and preserves should be compensated, versus those who believe that restrictive protection that forbids hunting is the most effective way to conserve wildlife and habitats.

Focusing on the different approaches taken by Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia, Martin vividly shows how the world’s last great populations of wildlife have become the hostages in a fight between those who love animals and those who would save them.

Martin builds a convincing case… But the real value of Martin’s book is in showing how hard it is to find any conservation strategy that works in the complex reality of today’s Africa… Walking the fine line between unregulated killing and managed hunting will not be easy, it may be the only hope for Africa’s wild creatures. Martin emphasises that measures such as ecotourism and protection for iconic species have backfired dramatically.

Read more on this subject by clicking the Kalahari link here.

• It seems that sustainable hunting takes humans into account, while ARA and its ilk seem to claim to the idea that animals should be conserved in their natural state without taking into account human needs, especially in Africa that is plagued by poverty and the lack of employment opportunities. – Editor

Weird & Wild: Rare Maned Lionesses Explained – News Watch

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Weird & Wild: Rare Maned Lionesses Explained – News Watch.

DNA confirms Ethiopian lions are genetically distinct group – Science – News – The Independent

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DNA confirms Ethiopian lions are genetically distinct group – Science – News – The Independent.

Good fences make safe lions – latimes.com

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Good fences make safe lions – latimes.com.

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