Can the world’s most ambitious rewilding project restore Patagonia’s beauty?

24 agosto, 2018

Fuente: The Guardian

During an elegant dinner in the wilds of Patagonia, Kris Tompkins suddenly remembered the fresh guanaco carcass down the road. She rose from the table and drove us to the nearby grasslands of Patagonia national park, gushing about the possibility of staying up all night with a torch in hope of spying a mountain lion come to feast on the dead llama-like creature.

Tompkins searched the golden hillsides for the 100kg carcass she had spotted hours earlier. Had lions dragged it into the underbrush? Were the Andean condors circling above preparing to finish off the remains?

As she drove, Tompkins narrated her quarter century-long effort to reintroduce threatened and locally extinct species to the wilds of South America – ranging from giant anteaters and jaguars in northern Argentina to Darwin’s rhea, a species of ostrich native to southern Patagonia. When Conservación Patagónica – the NGO she helped found – bought the land that became this park, the guanaco population was struggling to compete for food and space with an estimated 25,000 sheep. But since the sheep were sold and the fences removed, native guanaco herds have flourished from an unsustainable population of several hundred to an estimated 3,000.

After purchasing a 222,000-acre property in 2004, Tompkins and her husband Doug, who died in a kayak accident in 2015, dedicated the following years to their conservation effort. Using hundreds of volunteers, Conservación Patagónica has converted these overgrazed sheep ranchlands into a world-renowned example of ecological restoration by reintroducing and breeding native species as part of a comprehensive rewilding programme.

First coined in the 1990s by environmental activist Dave Foreman, rewilding– large-scale wilderness recovery that allows natural processes and native wildlife to flourish – has migrated from fringe fantasy to the mainstream of conservation biology. Scientists increasingly believe the complex web of life thrives in the absence of human intervention and is often heavily influenced by mountain lions, wolves and other “apex predators”.

“I am a big non-human advocate. I get along better with the non-human world probably than the human world,” said Tompkins. “I would like to change the way national parks look at rewilding everywhere in the world where there are extirpated species, [and to] make it one of the goals of national parks everywhere. As they say, landscape without wildlife is just scenery.”

“Compared to South America, with a lot of wildlands left, in Europe it is much more about restoring natural processes in large landscapes to let wilder nature develop,” said Frans Schepers, managing director of Rewilding Europe. “In Europe, the rewilding movement has large areas in which there has been a successful comeback of wolves to Germany, elk to Denmark, Iberian lynx to Spain and bison to central and eastern Europe.”

Scotland’s highlands, in particular, are being restored by landowners seeking not only to help re-establish missing native species but to replant the majestic Caledonian forest, lost centuries ago to logging and sheep that have grazed the land to a nearly unrecognisable shell of its former lush existence.

In 1989, the conservationist Alan Watson Featherstone founded Trees for Life, a charity that has since planted more than a million trees in Scotland. Scottish rewilding efforts also include the restoration of peat bogs and efforts to cull the red deer population, which has swelled beyond what biologists consider a healthy population – due largely to the absence of predators including wolves which once ranged widely across Scotland.

Across Europe a movement is taking shape, with Rewilding Europe coordinating projects in 10 countries. “We not only need to protect nature, but also to restore it and provide space for nature to develop. Many ecosystems – the basis of our natural wealth – are broken,” said Schepers. “Even in Europe we can allow nature to take more of its own course, instead of people managing and controlling it.”

Cristian Saucedo, a veterinarian and head of the wildlife conservation programme at Patagonia national park, described rewilding as “a moral issue to avoid extinction. We are not just losing species, we are reducing our own chances for survival in the long term.” Pointing to the resurgence of mountain lions in the park, Saucedo said: “We are not just preserving landscape and wildlife, but also clean water, forests, and functional ecosystems. If we don’t have top predators, the population of guanacos explodes, and this affects the grass. We are all related. The problem with humans is that we are now so far removed from nature.”

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