In a paper published in the August 17 issue of Nature, Josh Donlon, a graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, at Cornell University, is proposing a program under which wild African animals such as lions, elephants and cheetahs could be introduced to the Great Plains of the United States, which includes part of Minnesota.
These animals would "replace" the large carnivores and herbivores that disappeared from North America during the Pleistocene era, about 13,000 years ago. During the Pleistocene many animals that we associate with other continents were present in North America. These include the now extinct American cheetah, feral horses, Bactrian camels, lions and Asian and African elephants.
Donlan argues that this plan, or "re-wilding", is an alternative conservation strategy for the twenty-first century, that serves not to just manage extinction, but to actively restore natural processes and to potentially reset the environmental balance.
A pilot study will test the re-wilding notion by releasing the endangered Bolson tortoise on a private ranch in New Mexico. The tortoise, which can weigh up to 100 pounds and once thrived in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico, now only lives in a small area of northern Mexico.
This plan has a long way to go before it reaches any sort of public acceptance, but it sure sounds cool, don't you think?