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Proposal would allow wild animals to roam North America

ITHACA, N.Y. -- If Cornell University researchers and their colleagues have their way, cheetahs, lions, elephants, camels and other large wild animals may soon roam parts of North America.

"If we only have 10 minutes to present this idea, people think we're nuts," said Harry Greene, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell. "But if people hear the one-hour version, they realize they haven't thought about this as much as we have. Right now, we are investing all of our megafauna hopes on one continent -- Africa."

Greene and a number of other highly eminent ecologists and conservationists have authored a paper, published in the latest issue of Nature (Vol. 436, No. 7053), advocating the establishment of vast ecological history parks with large mammals, mostly from Africa, that are close relatives or counterparts to extinct Pleistocene-period animals that once roamed the Great Plains.

The plan, which is called Pleistocene rewilding and is intended to be a proactive approach to conservation, would help revitalize ecosystems that have been compromised by the extinction of many of the continent's large mammals, many of them predators. It would also offer ecotourism and land-management jobs to help the struggling economies in rural areas of the Great Plains and Southwest.

During the Pleistocene era -- between 1.8 million to about 10,000 years ago -- North America's ecosystems were much more diverse. As animals became extinct, many gaps developed in the web of interactions that makes up a healthy ecosystem. Introducing living counterparts to the extinct Pleistocene-period animals could fill the voids for American plants and animals that coevolved with large but now extinct mammals in the picture, the researchers said.

For example, 4 million years of being hunted by the now extinct American cheetah (Acinonyx trumani) was probably why the pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) -- an antelopelike animal found throughout the
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Contact: Blaine Friedlander
bpf2@cornell.edu
607-254-8093
Cornell University News Service
17-Aug-2005


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