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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Winter 2014

Call of the Wild

Scientists warn that we are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, an event on par with the destruction of the dinosaurs. One way to counteract the loss of biodiversity is through “re-wilding” – that is, reintroducing species to places from which they have disappeared. The idea is often controversial (especially when it involves large predators), but it’s an essential part of the effort to restore ecosystems to their healthy functioning.

Sources: Associated Press, 8/24; BBC, 2/15; IUCN; BBC, 9/16; Mongabay, 11/1/12

Britain
Once ubiquitous in Britain, the short-haired bumblebee started dying out in the 1980s and was locally extinct by 2000. In 2012, scientists reintroduced queens brought over from Sweden, and within a few weeks the bees had established themselves at a reserve in Kent.
Montana, USA
When the US Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing gray wolves to the Northern Rockies in 1995, many people hailed it as a landmark environmental victory. The plan has since sparked fierce blowback – and led to the gray wolf’s partial removal from the endangered species list. But the ecological success is clear: Scientists have shown that the reappearance of wolves has helped restore riparian areas in Yellowstone National Park.
Washington, USA
By the mid-twentieth century, the number of Pacific fishers had been cut nearly in half due to fur trapping. A few years ago, wildlife agents reintroduced 90 fishers, a weasel-like predator, to the Olympic Peninsula. Now officials are making plans to release 80 fishers annually into Mt. Rainier and North Cascade National Parks.
Tanzania
The tiny, yellow Kihansi spray toad only lived in a small, five-acre area near the spray of Kihansi Gorge waterfalls – the smallest known habitat of any vertebrate. When the gorge was dammed, the toad almost went extinct. Now scientists have been able to bring it back thanks to the installation of an artificial misting system. The water and power for the system come from the dam.
India
Sometimes re-wilding doesn’t mean re-introducing animals, but relocating people. In February 2012, the Indian government compensated 82 families for leaving their village in the Sariska Tiger Reserve. A few years earlier, the number of tigers in the reserve fell to zero, though now it’s back up to five. Indian tigers declined drastically during the past century, and just 1,700 remain in the wild today.
South Korea
Most of the Asiatic black bears in Korea live in cages where they are brutally “farmed” for their bile, which supposedly has healing powers. The South Korean government is trying to maintain the semblance of a wild population. In 2004, government officials began reintroducing black bears in the Jirisan Mountains. While some of the animals have mated successfully, just 27 bears are found in the wild there.

   

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