Photo: Renee / Flickr

Born Free is the story of one couple’s attempts to reintroduce a young lioness into the wild. Known as Elsa, she is one of three cubs that George and Joy Adamson take in following the deaths of their feline parents. Elsa stays with the pair into adulthood, and rather than see her transported to a zoo, George and his wife “rehabilitate” Elsa to return to the wild, where she can exist peacefully and freely amongst her own kind.

The tactics employed are no doubt unique, but reintroducing wildlife to a specific region is nothing new. In Washington, a revival plan for grizzly bear populations has recently made its way onto the agenda of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, though available options could take as long as 25 years to execute.

Todd Wilkinson of the Christian Science Monitor explains, “Grizzlies face daunting pressures – from poachers, big-game hunters killing them in self-defense, crowds of admiring tourists, dwindling food supplies, and humanity’s increasing development of the wilds.”

The animals are being hit in all directions; if poaching or hunting doesn’t kill them, a lack of habitat or low food supplies will.

At one time, grizzlies were common throughout the Northern region of the Cascades, but very few have been sighted in recent years, and experts believe only 20 individuals remain. California’s state animal since 1953, the grizzly has been extinct in the region for nearly 100 years thanks to record trapping and poisoning in the 19th century. The last grizzly sighting in California occurred in 1924 in Sequoia National Park.

Capturing grizzlies from neighboring states and placing then within remote areas of the Cascades stands as the organization’s most likely approach. Recently, the bears endured a massive comeback throughout Yellowstone National Park, and are now common in certain portions of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, but while authorities have the subjects they need to put things in motion, the thought of reintroducing bears to Washington has garnered mixed reactions. Joe Scott of Conservation Northwest is all for it; he says grizzlies are symbols of heritage, and aren’t likely to recover without government aid. Others, however, scowl at the idea, claiming the bears could decimate livestock.

Additional battles are occurring between state and federal legislators, as both claim jurisdiction over the species’ recovery. Current laws in Washington say animals “shall not be transplanted or introduced into the state,” while federal regulators mark the plan as necessary and safe, claiming grizzles naturally avoid human interaction. The bears would also be monitored through the use of tracking collars.

A Comeback for Beavers Across the Pond?

More than 4,000 miles away, a similar program is formulating to reintroduce beavers to Wales after what is referred to as a centuries-long absence. Known simply as the Welsh Beaver Project, the plan is working towards the reintroduction of European beavers, which haven’t been seen in the area since the 16th century. The animals were reestablished in Scotland in 2009, where they’re classified as a protected species.

Alice Leow-Dyke of Wildlife Trusts Wales believes beavers could prevent overgrowth and assist in habitat restoration.

“The evidence coming from Britain and Europe is they can be beneficial for ecology, help with filtering water, and have important consequences for the landscape,” she explains. “You’re not looking at a single species. It can have such a wider benefit helping the ecosystem. Because we’ve had such a detrimental effect on the landscape for so long, this can help.”

As with grizzlies, some are expressing concern. Policy advisor for NFU Cymru Dafydd Jarrett for example, says the scenario is one of introduction rather than reintroduction on account that beavers have not been present for 500 years. “We haven’t had them in Wales for many centuries now,” he says. “We do not really know what diseases they carry and their effects on other species. There needs to be very, very careful thought before they are brought in.”

The Farmers’ Union of Wales suggests an even gloomier outcome. “Beavers can threaten property, the dams they build cause problems for migrating fish, they can damage agricultural crops, and negatively affect other natural resources,” a spokesman states. “There has to be a compensation and control scheme in place, and there has to be a contingency plan.”

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