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New plan for the Great Plains: Bring back the Pleistocene

August 18, 2005View for printing

Elephants roaming North Dakota? Free-range camels and lions a couple hours' drive from Denver or Oklahoma City?

That's the vision behind a new call to "re-wild" parts of North America's Great Plains. Since people are leaving the region's rural areas, the logic goes, why not create large ecological reserves with animals that are kin to the mammoths, mastodons, and cheetahs that roamed the region 13,000 years ago?

The approach echoes other proposals and projects to restore habitat in the Great Plains - with a twist. It would use the Pleistocene fossil record as a rough guide for restoration, rather than the historical record from Europeans' first contact. It might also provide a haven for large animals that are struggling to survive in their home habitats in Africa and Asia.

Researchers summarized their proposal in today's edition of Nature. Some call it "Pleistocene Park."

While many researchers consider the proposal "pie in the sky," other scientists see it as a bold vision. But behind it lies an important dynamic. Some specialists believe they're losing the battle to save many large animals from eventual extinction.

By Peter N. Spotts | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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