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Bad Ideas
The Christian Science Monitor recently reported on schemes to "re-wild" grassland areas in the United States and tundra in Russia. These schemes would, for example, introduce camels, horses, elephants, cheetahs and lions to the North American Great Plains. According to the article, Russia has already started a program in the Republic of Sakha whereby musk oxen, hares, marmots, and ground squirrels have already been introduced onto the tundra. The Russian program plans in the future to import bison from Canada and Siberian tigers. The idea is to save endangered/threatened species by providing them new habitat.

Winston likes endangered species as much as the next dog. However, he also thinks one should be very careful about bringing animals from one place and plopping them down in a new place. The term "invasive species" comes to mind.

Consider, for example, the Australian cane toad. Around 1935, Australian farmers imported 100 cane toads to eat the cane beetle, a scourge of sugar cane crops. For various fascinating reasons, the cane toad did not, indeed would not, to eat cane beetles.

They did eat many other things though. Basically, cane toads will eat anything that fits in their very big mouths. That is not helpful to the many native Australian species who fit into cane toads mouths. Cane toads are also poisonous to most predators that try to eat them. That is not helpful to the many native Australian predators who make the usually fatal mistake of trying to eat cane toads.

Oh, did Winston mention that when cane toads are not eating everything in sight, and when they are not poisoning anything that tries to eat them, then they are reproducing? There are many, many Australian cane toads at this time, and fewer native Australian species as a result.

Then is there is the brown tree snake. This nasty little snake is believed to have arrived on Guam as a result of hiding in US cargo ships during Wold War II. Since invading Guam, the brown tree snake has virtually wiped out the island's native forest birds. Twelve species of birds unique to Guam have disappeared as the direct result of the snake's eating them. The US Government estimates that there are now up to 13,000 brown tree snakes per square mile on Guam.

Winston could provide many, many other horrible examples of what happens when humans, for whatever reason, introduce non-native species to an ecosystem. Instead, he recommends an excellent recent book on invasive species: Out of Eden, an Odyssey of Ecological Invasion, by Alan Burdick.

What exactly would happen if lions and cheetahs and elephants roamed the Great Plains? The answer to this rhetorical question is that no one knows. That answer is the reason why lions and cheetahs and elephants should not be introduced into the Great Plains. Besides, the big cats might develop a taste for dog meat–or small children.

  • Click for Christian Science Journal article.
  • Click for more about cane toads in Australia.
  • Click for more about brown tree snake.
  • Click for more about Out of Eden.

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