Rewilding: Putting elephants in your backyard?

Photo by dreamingtiger |

Have you ever thought about what kinds of animals live in North America, and how that compared to what existed here before humans recreated the landscape? Josh Donlan and colleagues from Cornell University have, and in 2005, suggested a radical but thought-provoking way to reintroduce some megafauna into our area.

The process is called rewilding, and it’s about the restoration of bigger-sized species into suitable habitats across our continent. And when I say, think big, I really mean it – their plans include African cheetahs, elephants, and lions.

Their ideas run in three phases. The first, is to create proxies, or select animals that are similar to those that existed in North America before development drove them out. For example, the 50-kg Bolson tortoise (Gopherus flavomarginatus) is critically endangered in Mexico and was previously widely distributed across the Chihuahuan desert.

The second phase is to place some megafauna onto private reserves in naturalistic settings. Although slightly scary in thought, having these in place could have economic benefits and provide ecotourism for some remote areas.

The third phase require the creation of ‘ecological history parks’, which could cover areas of the Great Plains that currently have no economic benefits. With high fencing and security, the plan would be to keep these megafauna as secure as possible.

Donlan et al. propose great questions, and challenge those to criticize their ideas to consider the state of America’s conservation practices today. Clearly, we have emptied out North America to a state where only smaller fauna exist. With biodiversity loss happening at an alarming rate, larger conservation efforts are certainly needed in order to avoid pest-and-weed landscapes.

Conversely, some have accused the efforts to be creating “Frankenstein ecosystems” – that is, creating new, unwanted problems instead of restoring the species we currently have. 

What do you think – do you think this will boost ecotourism? Is this is way to preserve species? Let us know below!