Editor’s note: The fourth part of the “Human Interaction with Nature” series takes a look at efforts to recover endangered animal species. This post was written by Denzyl Janneker, and originally published on Friday, May 9, 2008.
Baraboo, Wisconsin and Basra, Iraq might have nothing in common, but fighting a war and killing endangered species has prompted a common human response – to do an about turn and nurture that which we have destroyed.
Baraboo is known for efforts in saving its whooping crane population, while Basra is emerging from the ashes of war with a skyline dotted with cranes, symbolizing the reconstruction and development initiatives under way. At least that’s the intention. Two words stand out in either respect: Reconstruction and reintroduction.
Wars aside, what is it about man’s insatiable desire to kill animals, whether it’s for hides, horns or a hunter’s trophy? If only animals were like humans, they’d be completely cynical and sarcastic:
“Well, sir you might as just save me the trouble of running off into the bush and hiding. So load your bolt-action rifle and oh, don’t worry about the telescopic sight since I’m just going to be a few feet away. And when my head’s mounted above your fireplace in say 10 or 20 years from now, you can brag to your guests what a tough contest it was.”
Actually, I’ve become more cynical about attempts at redress after seeing so many species pushed to the brink of extinction. My knee-jerk response is to leave well alone. But, as custodians of wildlife, we’ve no choice but to do something or many will go the way of that archetype of extinct species, the dodo.
That efforts must be sustainable is a given. We have to learn from the failed attempts at reintroducing species into nature – the wild dogs into parks in Southern Africa, the Oriental Magpie Robin in Singapore to mention but a few.
On the positive side, we can take heart from successes like the recovery efforts of the American bison, the reintroduction of lemur in Madagascar and how we’ve managed to save the last remaining rhino populations through capture and relocation to protected reserves. Such measures inspire confidence in other areas, like the bane of many farmers, the wolf, whose reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park not only presents opportunities to correct misconceptions, but show how such interventions can be positive.
In the 1990s, the Canadian wolf was introduced into the Yellowstone National Park.
Cat Lazaroff, from Defenders of Wildlife said she knows there are some ranchers opposed to the wolves program, but she provides a compelling argument as to why it’s been good for the environment.
“Whenever you remove a species, particular one at the top of the food chain like the wolf, you leave behind unexpected consequences with those left behind. Elk, which were the prey of wolves, become overabundant. They ate the willow, which in turn became scarce and you have a spin-off effect that continues. And so we say it’s not a good idea to remove a species from its habitat,” Lazaroff said.
But that trend continues today. Not only does it result in a complex imbalance in the food chain, but permanently changes our ecosystem and evolutionary links to the beginning of time.