Saturday, August 20, 2005

More on Introducing African Mammals

For a favorable view of the proposed introduction of large African mammals into the North American Great Plains, see "Lions and Cheetahs and Elephants, Oh My!" in Thursday's Slate.

"Rewilding"—bringing elephants, cheetahs, and lions out of captivity to run free in parts of North America—could help save these megafauna from global extinction. More important, it would restore to the continent biological functions lost millenniums ago. The big guys would help stop the march of the pests and weeds—rats and dandelions—that will otherwise take over the landscape. And they would promote the natural processes that generate biodiversity. For example, for more than 4 million years before its extinction, the American cheetah preyed on the deerlike pronghorn, a relationship that helped engender the pronghorn's astonishing speed....
It is an interesting argument. I still believe that it would be a bad idea, for the reasons I have already mentioned. If restoration and conservation are the goals, I would much rather see the African and Asian species conserved in their native habitats, and the North American species preserved here. This proposal looks like an attempt to play God with species that may or may not be suited for their new environments.