Ecologist Josh Donlan on Bringing Sexy Animals Back via "Rewilding"

Is that a Cheetah in your Pants or Are You Just Happy to See Me?
The American lion and cheetah? Yeah, in June 2007, Donlan published a proposal in Scientific American to bring back animals that disappeared from North America some 13,000 years ago -- that would mean using African Elephants to fill the gap left by the woolly Mammoth and African big cats to replace the now extinct American lion, American cheetah and saber-toothed cat (aka saber-tooth tiger).

The proposal, bold in its vision, may conflict with other green goals. The interaction of building, cities, transportation and human population on the landscape and ecosystems is a fundamental factor of extinction. Megafauna, such as wolves and mountain lions, need large expanses of land to support a healthy number of individuals and packs. The rewilding megafauna, and the number of different large mammals, will need African-like landmasses. Renewable energy, especially utility-sized installations, will complete for that land.

When asked what's the biggest challenge for the new green movement, Donlan recognizes that the movement means different things to different people and that "the biggest challenges are climate change, consumption, and disconnection with ones environment. I think E.O. Wilson recently nailed it when he said, 'We have stone age emotions, medieval institutions, and God-like technology. That is the source of all problems'." He thinks the biggest disconnect between the goals of rewilding and, say, green buildings or renewable energy is their relationship to the past. Donlan explains," Rewiliding is largely about ecological history and function - and being cognizant of both. Certainly, green design has a function component to it - how about a historical component?" He hits a contention within green building. At present, green building's focal point is with issues such as energy efficiency and indoor air quality. There is still a need to find ways to implement evolutionary and ecosystematic solutions with sustainable projects.

Megafauna to Fuel the Comeback
Though the goals of rewilding wants to restore ecosystems back to their 13,000 year ago state, the discipline is quite young. Yet, we as a society are being pushed to face difficult chooses. Donlan says, “In the coming century, by default or design, our society will decide what and how much biodiversity we will coexist with. We now live in a world of decaying ecosystems, where humans lack any relationship with nature. Maybe bringing megafauna back to North America could jumpstart a more proactive vision of biodiversity conservation while reconnecting people to nature.”

Rewilding brings up many difficult questions and issues for contemporary society to face. At minimum, the concept causes us to reevaluate what it means to be a species – an equal, or even inferior to larger more powerful animals. It’s no secret people have inflicted incredible damages to the biosphere. The disappearance of these mammals (American lions, Shasta ground sloth, western camel, etc) were influenced by our ancestors. And yet, maybe Donlan is pointed toward something that could allow us to repay the debt to the earth we have most-definitely racked up.

More on rewilding, ecosystems and species:
Biomimicry Course: Learn About The Amazing Potential of Design Inspired by Nature
Coastal Habitats Deemed Planet's Most Imperiled Ecosystems
Cheetahs on the Brink of Extinction, UN Report Finds
A Visual Orgasm on the Galapagos Islands

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