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predation, worse yet describe them as insolent and aggressive, that's much more about
our inner worlds than their everyday lives. Luckily, by the time Dave Hardy and I began
studying blacktails, he'd convinced me to leave my ego at the door and drop the hands-
on approach, a shift that paid off big-time. Surely we'd not have had so many rewarding
encounters if those snakes had been pinned, and who knows, maybe things would have
gone differently under that juniper tree, when superfemale 21, within inches of my face,
didn't strike.
Paul Martin's life spanned boyhood bird watching and a scholarly career, capped by
daring plans to rewild North America. His is a story of arduous fieldwork and exciting
discoveries, of intellectual puzzles and the theory that humans, shortly after our New
World arrival, hunted most large mammals to extinction. Paul was a lover of tempting
diversions, a visionary time traveler who thought across millennia and continents as
easily as most of us locate parked cars—and could anyone else make “chest-deep in gi-
ant ground-sloth dung” sound magical? After identifying globe mallow in the thirteen-
thousand-year-old manure, this voracious naturalist tried out its leaves and flowers on
his own gut! Paul affably confronted critics' proposals that “over-chill” (climate change)
or “over-ill” (disease) wiped out the Pleistocene megafauna, and that his “over-kill” the-
ory was culturally insensitive. Along the way, he urged us to regard horses as repat-
riated natives rather than feral pests and use elephants as ecological surrogates for
mammoths, a controversial proposal that jump-started my own preoccupation with the
meaning of wild nature. 29
Paul had advocated replacing extinct North American browsers with Old World prox-
ies in a 1969 Natural History essay that, along with two other publications, was the
intellectual impetus for what we have come to call Pleistocene rewilding. 30 In 1980,
Michael Soulé, who cofounded the Society for Conservation Biology, pointed out that
thanks to habitat fragmentation, small populations, and shrinking genetic diversity, the
adaptive evolution of large animals was mostly over—for me a stunningly sad revela-
tion. 31 Then in 1982 Dan Janzen and Paul identified jicaro and several other tropic-
al plants as anachronisms, species whose seeds were dispersed by Pleistocene horses,
gomphotheres (elephant relatives), and other extinct mammals, which implied there
were still roles for those animals to play in modern ecosystems. 32 Nonetheless, it was
almost twenty years before Paul's article with David Burney in Wild Earth ignited the
rewilding controversy. 33 They touted elephants as the ultimate in restoration ecology
but initially gained no traction whatsoever with fellow conservation biologists.
I'd been friends with Paul for years, thanks to his Tennessee seminar visit in the
1970s, and my Ph.D. student Josh Donlan was also a fan. Moreover, Josh's masters' re-
search entailed removing exotic rodents and predators from islands, so he was steeped
in the conceptual and technical complexities of restoration ecology. During the summer
of 2003, bouncing along a Sonoran Desert backroad in my pickup, we decided maybe
Martin and Burney weren't nuts after all—sure, bringing lions back to North America
was a stretch, given their potential consumption of people, but what about cheetahs
and Asian elephants? Were there sound reasons underlying the traditional conservation
benchmark of 1492, or might something much older yet more ambitious be relevant?
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