Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jurassic Park

Scientific American describes plans to "rewild" Europe by restoring the ecosystems of the Pleistocene and repopulating it with megafauna like lions. "Scientists should also consider reintroducing 11 additional megafauna species: the Asiatic lion, leopard, spotted hyena, dhole, horse, cattle, Asiatic wild ass, Asiatic elephant, hippopotamus, water buffalo and hairy rhinoceros." The article continues:

First, the predators such as lions must be brought back. The extinct spelaea subspecies of that great cat were widespread in Europe until the end of the last glacial period. The Asiatic lion is an obvious candidate to replace this missing feline predator; it actually flourished in the Balkans as far north as Hungary just a few thousand years ago but now lives only in a limited forest area in India thanks to overhunting. Other predators to consider are the leopard and spotted hyena, along with the dhole, also known as the Asiatic wild dog, all of which were widespread in Europe during the late Pleistocene and could be transplanted from Africa and Asia.

The images that come spring to mind from this article are, so help me, unavoidably comedic. But a more philsophical question arises: is this not tampering with nature? How different in principle is the project to "rewild" Europe from establishing a housing complex full of human predators and ex-convicts? Wouldn't that be rewilding of a sort? Since when did "nature" become anything but manmade, except perhaps, a manmade Pleistocene environment?

Admittedly lions are more beautiful than men with switchblades and tattoos, but how quickly we find that injunctions against "changing nature" have for their object precisely that.


Well maybe it has already begun. The AP says a man claims he has the Loch Ness Monster on video. "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw this jet black thing, about 45 feet long, moving fairly fast in the water," said Gordon Holmes, the 55-year-old a lab technician from Shipley, Yorkshire, who took the video Saturday. Nessie watcher and marine biologist Adrian Shine viewed the video and hoped to properly analyze it in the coming months."


Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

I was hanging with a man from the Netherlands one day in Chicago (flight cancellation & the airline teamed us up together for accommodations the Palmer House). We got to talking about cougars and he thought they were pretty and was astounded when I told him I would kill any in the wild I saw while armed. Ohhhh, they are pretty. They are also lethal to human kind.

European man has not had to worry about predation for centuries now and has romanticized those creatures capable of killing humans. Hmmm, yes Wretchard it does seem familiar.

5/31/2007 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger Jewish Odysseus said...

Europe is already doing a fine job of re-wilding itself by importing and cultivating ignoble Arabian savage throwbacks from the 7th century C.E.

5/31/2007 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger jane said...

Can I be the only one reminded of the Genesis project from Star Trek? Couldn’t find a clip on the actual seeding of flora and fauna for the planet, but the following are fun:

Think of the EU Enterprise on a mission and enjoy the misspellings and surprise ending.

This one’s an actual clip and stroll down nostalgic lane that reminds us of the cheesiest acting ever committed to film, eons “after” Shatner graced Boston Legal. Also, there’s a surprise ending actress.

5/31/2007 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...

I think the best analogy to "Jurassic Park" its the Saudi Kingdom, for is oil wealth allows people on the Arabian Peninsula to live within an artificial "retro" society that could not exist were it not for the luxury afforded by massive subsidies from the petroleum industry.

Were it not for its oil wealth, the Arabian Peninsula (and much of the Islamic world) would have been forced to modernize generations ago. Oil wealth has allowed the Saudi Kingdom to indulge its puritanical fantasies and spawn ideological dinosaurs such as al-Qaeda.

To me, "Jurassic Park" represents the creation of a fake antiquity, a postmodern retro habitat where monsters long extinct roam the planet -- except that such monsters often take control of their habitat.

It is easy to romanticize a world long gone and animals long extinct when one doesn't need to worry about becoming dinner for some Phororhacos let loose by animal rights activists (with one of them surely eaten by the ungrateful bird).

5/31/2007 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

I seem to recall how well things worked out when environmentalists introduced rabbits into Australia and the mongoose into Hawaii. :P

Any bets as to how far they'll get into this project before they find out it was A Bad Idea? ^_~

5/31/2007 11:57:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

"I seem to recall how well things worked out when environmentalists introduced rabbits into Australia and the mongoose into Hawaii." -- Towering Barbarian.

It started innocently.

Rabbits were first brought into Australia by the First Fleet. They were not released into the wild until 1859, when Victorian grazier Thomas Austin imported 24 specimens from England and released them on his Victorian farm. At the time he had stated:

"The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting."

By 1894 rabbits had spread across the entire Australian mainland. In order to control the rabbit, turn of the 20th century Australia embarked on building the "No. 1 Rabbit-Proof Fence", a project against which one should compare proposals to fence off the Rio Grande.

There are three fences; the original No. 1 Fence, which crosses the state from north to south, the No. 2 Fence which is smaller and further west, and the smaller east-west running No. 3 fence. The fences took six years to build and when completed in 1907, the Rabbit-Proof Fence (encompassing all three fences) stretched 3,256 kilometres (approximately 2,023 miles).

But wait, there's also a Dingo Fence which 5,320 km long. Dingos are descendants of Southeast Asian dogs, brought over by some unknown island traders who couldn't bear to be without old Fido. Just you wait until we get started on the giant artificial trees, the orbiting sunshields and the simulated volcanoes that are now in the works to control Global Warming. As for reintroducing carnivores into a newly wilded Europe, expect a renewed interest in the revival of interest in Second Amendment concepts when Europeans rediscover that lions, alas, bite.

6/01/2007 12:12:00 AM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

I read the Paleolithic article. It was in the same edition as a very interesting piece about life arising not from DNA or RNA, but a self-replicating simpler molecule...which to me was the "meat".

I note that the "repopulation" proposal makes great sense after the Megafauna extinctions brought on by Native Americans, Europeans, Australian aborigines. And in latter years by modern man that wiped out another assortment of species globally.

Fortunately, man was not completely thorough in some species eradication. The Musk Oxen was wiped out in Siberia, but not N America. The Cheetah, pachyderms, camelids, horses were exterminated in N America but survive elsewhere.
Species reintroductions have worked locally (many of the natural Parks in N America and Africa brimming with wildlife were farmland with few native species struggling to exist just 150 years ago), or transcontinent.

Musk oxen now live again in Siberia. A collection of herds now over 5,000 in oxen number since Nixon gave the 1st two to Breznev. N American beavers imported replaced the Euro extermination of the species. The wolf has been reintroduced to the lower 48. African species have been introduced in private game parks and game farms and have proven they can breed, flourish. and survive well in N American ecosystems.

The reintroduction of species has many attractive features:

1. Large animals wiped out by hunters in the past are keystone species that help shape a good ecology and allow other species to benefit. In America, that could mean added diversity and value from ecosystems for nature and for man.

2. Allowing identical, or "close to the original" species to live in additional locations is a hedge on their total extermination. Cheetahs and Tigers are endangered. Bring the cheetah back to America to run down the Pronghorns that evolved from cheetah predation means better odds for their survival if human overbreeding and ecosystem collapse hits Africa. Putting Siberian tigers back in Alaska, maybe in just island systems, adds value and adds to the gene pool and number of tigers.

3. The tourism potential is dramatic. Yellowstone and Yosemite were once farm and ranchland. People flock to them now. And the main draw is not the scenery, the geysers...but the wildlife and sense you are out of "man's Dominion".

4. The "Jurassic Park" feature, which was really not discussed in the article, is the possibility of recreating extinct species. We have the DNA of some of the key paleolithic, pleistiocene mammals, birds. Giant ground sloths, dire wolves, tasmanian wolves, hippo-sized marsupials in OZ, the passenger pigeon, Dodo, Moas, Elephant bird of Madagascar, early "mini-horses", Mastodon DNA.

It is more possible technology can recreate those species lost only 10,000 to 45,000 years ago we have the DNA of than "dinos" we don't.

There is keen interest in doing it if we can. Some call it "atonment" for past human recklessness, undoing our butcheries. Others just want to spend money on vacation to see suck an environment if we can recreate it with "authentic, mainly authentic" bygone creatures.

The 800-lb gorilla that environmentalists never mention - it is taboo - is human overpopulation. They think that habitat loss can be dealt with with "laws" telling people they cannot use certain lands - but that doesn't work when human population grows so large that the Park boundaries and fences are torn down or adding new Parks is no longer possible.
It just makes sense. If Africa had 160 million people in Subsaharan lands in 1840, 1.2 billion now, and projected to breed to 10.4 billion by 2150 barring environmental collapse, civil war, there just is less habitat and water for wildlife. (Unless the 9 billion get ACLU lawyers and get into America as "refugees).
Even in America, the 140 million of 1940 has become 300 million today with unchecked mass immigration, is projected to be 363 million in 2030, 420 million in 2050 and between 690-720 million by 2100.
Marcus Aurelius - We got to talking about cougars and he thought they were pretty and was astounded when I told him I would kill any in the wild I saw while armed. Ohhhh, they are pretty. They are also lethal to human kind.
They have a right to be astounded. Even in America, unless you are in one of the few Western ranching areas where unrestricted killing or poisoning of cougars as "varmits" is still allowed - shoot a cougar on sight and you will be arrested and your guns seized. (With widespread popular support).

6/01/2007 01:47:00 AM  
Blogger Weary G said...

"As for reintroducing carnivores into a newly wilded Europe, expect a renewed interest in the revival of interest in Second Amendment concepts when Europeans rediscover that lions, alas, bite."

With European countries de-populating at the rate they are, will there be any Europeans to bite?

When I read the original post, I had some strange, Logan's Run kind of visions like Lions striding past the Louvre, and Giraffes grazing within site of the Vatican...

6/01/2007 06:17:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

If they're going to re-introduce large carnivores, they'd better re-introduce some large herbivores for them to prey upon.

Ceaderford, the fertility rates of a lot of countries is below steady state (2.1 for First World countries), and is dropping quickly in a lot of Second World counties. The US is an anomaly, a First World nation with an overall fertility rate nearly at steady state. Even the Arab states are affected, Iran's fertility rate has come crashing down. Spengler at Asia Times has several essays on this subject.

6/01/2007 07:09:00 AM  
Blogger ich dien said...

Maybe instead of trying imitate He who came and tried to teach us to walk on water, we should look back over our shoulders

"Humans learned to walk in trees"

Sounds like it might be safer.

6/01/2007 08:19:00 AM  
Blogger Ted Wallace said...

Don't they know we've been trying to do the same thing with Bigfoot?
And no luck Yeti!

6/01/2007 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...


I live in WI and know shooting a cougar would be welcome here. Wolves have been reintroduced and they are not popular. I do not mind wolves they do not predate on people but cougars do.

From time to time I hear of cougar reports here in WI. Our DNR investigates but never declares them present. One man I know speculates this is because then this means the WDNR will have to protect them.

Cougars will actively hunt people and I am not going to tolerate that.

6/01/2007 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger DeathtotheSwiss said...

I think Crichton touched upon this in his book State of Fear when he detailed the many mistakes made with Yellow Stone National Park.

It's going to be funny and a little bit sad when these people start hunting down the lions after realizing that they're hunting down their prey with machine-like proficiency.

6/01/2007 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Red River said...

Wolves will hunt people.

Just take a group of Bear dogs into the woods in WI or MN and see what happens to them, and maybe, you, too, when their bloodlust and dog-hatred runs amok.

6/01/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

The Israeli fence works.

The important components are 1) delay, 2) exposure, 3) maintenance, 4) vigilence, 5) swarming capacity and 6) effective Rules of Engagement. The length is not necessarily an insurmountable bar to effectiveness if monitoring is possible. Lots of cameras. Long straight stretches. Quick access to both sides.

6/01/2007 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

I have heard of plenty of stories of bear dogs getting killed by wolves, but I have yet to hear about wolves attacking people. I suppose it happens but I have heard a lot more incidents of cougars attacking people.

6/01/2007 10:10:00 PM  
Blogger Spatchcock said...

A book to read is "Monster of God" by David Quammen for a reasoned and entertaining examination of the relations of man and man-eaters.

Of particular interest is the relationship between the brown bear and Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu was the greatest bear-hunter in history. He killed - by a long margin - the most, and the largest, bears. Of course, being an absolute dictator helped him somewhat, in that he could afford to have large areas of Romania set aside as one-man bear-hunting preserves. The bears were tagged, followed, hand-fed, given veterinary care and driven past hides from where Nicolae and a few friends could hunt at very close range.

He was a poor shot himself, but any bear which escaped the shooting gallery would be despatched by its former minders and credited to his account.

6/02/2007 02:51:00 AM  
Blogger jafco said...

Clan of the Cave Bear or Valley of Horses is a better analogy in the present case than Jurassic Park (understanding that JP was about rewilding with extinct species).

In those two excellent novels, all these beasts existed - because there was a plate of ice about a mile thick a bit to the north. This so affected the climate and flora that huge herds of herbivores could exist to feed a large population of toothy predators. Given that global warming is our greatest fear (heh) maybe they should look to populate Europe with sand ibexes and camels. At least they won't turn on poor Germans for food when they venture into the Schwartzenvald.

6/03/2007 10:16:00 PM  

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