Old 18th August 2005, 15:24   #1
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Comming Soon: The nebraskian Elephant, the Kansas Lions

Should grains fear manes on the Plains?
The Associated Press

DENVER — Lions stalking deer in the stubble of a Nebraska cornfield.

Elephants trumpeting across Colorado’s high plains.

Cheetah slouching through the western Texas scrub.

Prominent ecologists are floating a plan that sounds like a “Jumanji” sequel — transplant African wildlife to the Great Plains of North America.

Their radical proposal is being greeted with gasps and groans from other scientists and conservationists, who recall previous efforts to relocate species halfway around the world, often with disastrous results.

The plan’s authors contend that it could help save Africa’s poster species from extinction at home, where protection is spotty and habitat is vanishing.

They also think that the relocated animals could restore biodiversity on this continent to a condition closer to that before humans overran the landscape.

They 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 loose a bunch of elephants,” insisted Cornell University ecologist Harry W. Greene, one of the plan’s authors.

While most African species existing today never lived on the American prairie, the scientists think that today’s animals could duplicate the natural roles played by their departed cousins — mastodons, camels and sabertoothed cats — which roamed for more than 1 million years alongside pronghorn and bison.

Relocating large animals to vast ecological parks and private reserves in the next century would begin to restore the balance, they said, while offering ecotourism opportunities to a withering region.

The scientists’ plan appears today in the journal Nature.

The idea is reminiscent of the 1987 Buffalo Commons proposal by Frank and Deborah Popper of Rutgers University to cut down fences of abandoned farms in the Great Plains and reconnect corridors for native prairie wildlife.

A similar park is being established in Siberia. Scientists with the Pleistocene park are importing bison from Canada to replace the native variety that vanished about 500 years ago.

Some ecologists think it’s important to try such a bold plan. Otherwise, they said, hundreds more species are likely to go extinct, and entire ecosystems, such as grasslands, will fundamentally change.

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

The plan is triggering thunderclaps of criticism. Words like “stupid” and “defeatist” are raining down.

Scientists point to Australia, which was overrun by rabbits and poisonous cane toads after misguided species relocations.

“It is not restoration to introduce animals that were never here,” said Donald K. Grayson, a University of Washington anthropologist. “Why introduce Old World camels and lions when there are North American species that could benefit from the same kind of effort?”

Given the continuing political struggle over the reintroduction of wolves in the West, others wonder how African lions would be at home on the range.

“How many calves or lambs would it take to feed a family of lions for a month?” said Steve Pilcher, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “We sort of know what it takes for wolves, but something tells me we would be in a whole new ballgame.”

Some conservationists said 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.

“Such relocations would affect future tourism opportunities,” said Elizabeth Wamba, 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.”

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

For example, elephants eat woody plants that have overtaken grasslands.

Lions would be a harder sell.

“Lions eat people,” said co-author Josh Donlan of Cornell. “There has to be a pretty serious attitude shift on how you view predators.”

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Old 18th August 2005, 21:22   #2
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Just what we need - import some more non-native species like kudzu, starlings, zebra mussels, and the like. When will people learn not to fuck with Mother Nature. She can get real ugly sometimes.

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Old 18th August 2005, 23:46   #3
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I thik that their point is that these creatures, or biologically similar ones, lived on the American continent, and their extinction led to gaps in the ecosystem that can be put right.
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Old 19th August 2005, 00:14   #4
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Yeah for Africanized bees!

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Old 19th August 2005, 00:44   #5
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Originally posted by shakey_snake
Yeah for Africanized bees!
I learned how to speak "Bee" recently...

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