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Reviving Europe’s biodiversity with exotic animals

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The Töpchin project is an example of a growing conservation trend in Europe — using large, exotic herbivores to enhance the diversity of native flora and fauna. Many people still believe that nature conservation is all about leaving native plants and animals alone, or restoring their habitats to a wild state. But in a world dominated by humans and rapid environmental change, things have become more complicated. The answer isn’t always to strive for a regionally “pure” mix of native species. A growing number of conservationists now seek to employ exotic species for managing native biodiversity.

“Our landscape is dominated by human use, so we should allow ourselves to be creative and flexible with how to manage it for maintaining biodiversity,” says Reinhold Leinfelder, a bio-geologist at the Free University of Berlin and former director of Berlin’s Natural History Museum.

What is happening in Germany is complementary to so-called “rewilding,” a global movement that aims to expand core wilderness areas, connect them via corridors that allow humans and animals to co-exist, and protect and reintroduce top predators. One initiative, Rewilding Europe, led by conservation groups such as WWF, aims by 2020 to rewild 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) of land spread across 10 reserves, from Spain, to the Danube, to the Carpathian Mountains. By contrast, the projects in Germany aim to restore and create biologically enriched landscapes shaped by humans.

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