Rewilding: reintroducing apex predators to their former habitats

Once upon a time, not so long ago in biological terms, lynx roamed the forests of Britain in search of prey. At present, however, most of these forests have been cleared and the big cats have disappeared in medieval times.

However, that doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. The concept of rewilding envisions the return of animals to the environments in which they once thrived and the reintroduction of large carnivores such as the lynx can go a long way to restoring at least some degree of biodiversity to countries like the UK.

Now an international team led by researchers from the Department of Biology, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the School of Geography and Environment at the University of Oxford has the answers. on the best way to achieve this.

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The success of the rewilding of large carnivores

Scientists analyzed data from nearly 300 animal relocations between 2007 and 2021 in 22 countries on five continents, with 18 different carnivore species, including bears, hyenas, big cats and wild dogs. What they found was that two-thirds of relocations were successful as long as the relocated animal survived in the wild for more than six months.

Success rates for large carnivore relocations have increased significantly since before 2007. For wild-born carnivores, success rates have increased from 53% before 2007 to 70%; and for animals born in captivity, success rates doubled from 32% before 2007 to 64%“, explain the scientists.

Species with the highest success rates included maned wolves, cougars, and ocelots, all of which had a 100% success rate. The species with the lowest success rates (about 50%) were African lions, brown hyenas, cheetahs, Iberian lynxes and wolves.”.

Increase survival with acclimatization

One way to increase an animal’s chances of survival in a new environment is to acclimate it to that environment before it is fully released. Releasing younger animals also increases success rates, likely because they may be better adjusted behaviorally and are less likely to have developed behaviors at home, experts say.

For captive-born animals, the success rate decreased 1.5 times compared to wild-born animals. However, it was observed that just over a third (37%) of the relocated animals found a mate and/or raised a young in their new habitat.they observe.

This relatively low level of mating success shows that reconstruction efforts often face challenges, making the protection of existing habitats especially important.

Over the past 15 years we have had more success translocating and reseeding large carnivores. This allows us to be optimistic about the future of rebuilding damaged ecosystems around the world, but we must remember that it is ever more important to protect populations of large carnivores where they are now before lose.says Seth Thomas of the University of Oxford, who was the study’s lead author.

Even though we have grown to be more successful, 34% of individual transfers fail and cannot be considered a replacement for immediate conservation action to save these populations.Thomas adds.

Country with little nature

Since the UK is “one of the most nature-deprived countries in the world“Experts say the reintroduction of large native predators such as wolves and Eurasian lynx could boost biodiversity, say the scientists.

As the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration progresses, the ecological need and political appetite for reseeding large carnivores has never been greater, and now they have the potential to contribute more to conservation than ever before. of biodiversity.says David Macdonald, professor at WildCRU.

By examining the most geographically comprehensive sample of displaced large carnivores to date, our study clearly shows conservationists and policymakers the urgency of improving recovery efforts.“.

However, Alastair Driver, director of the charity Rewilding Britain, warns that reintroducing the lynx to Britain is a relatively distant prospect.

Todavía tenemos un largo camino por recorrer para superar los concepts erróneos que dominan las preocupaciones sociales en torno a compartir nuestro paisaje dominado por humanos con otros depredadores ápice, pero este informe y los éxitos que documenta serán enormemente valiosos para asegurar un más ‘adulto- debate On the subjectsaid the driver.

I have no doubt that this, in turn, will lead to well-planned and implemented carnivore reintroductions that just 10 years ago I would have thought were inconceivable in my lifetime.“.

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