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three stages, the first already under way, since horses, donkeys, and llamas are wide-
spread, and they could be managed and appreciated as ecological participants rather
than pests. Stage two would be carefully controlled experiments—hundreds of captive
cheetahs and Asian elephants are already in the New World, so why not explore how
they'd fare under more naturalistic conditions? Finally, we proposed Pleistocene history
parks, thousands of square miles in size, supporting large herbivores and predators, to
be managed for ecotourism and bison ranching by Native Americans and other stake-
Reactions to our 2005 Nature paper 35 were swift, polarized, and briefly overwhelm-
ing. Within days, Josh and I had fielded hundreds of emails and sat for some fifty radio
and television interviews. Seventy percent of seven thousand people polled by MSNBC
were positive, and the Economist,NewYorkTimes, and JournalofBiogeography offered
enthusiastic editorials. Some prominent biologists called our proposal optimistic, and
wild horse advocates loved it until I mentioned predators large enough to take the stal-
lions. Negative feedback ranged from polite and thoughtful to hostile and absurd, with
one guy threatening to shoot Josh and his elephants and another linking me with an “in-
ternational Jewish conspiracy.” A letter from pseudonymous, and thus cowardly, Joseph
Spicatum linked me to “terrorist atrocities like 9-11,” called me a “goofball, dipwad,
doofus with a scrambled brain,” and advised I “stick to playing with lab rats, befriend-
ing cockroaches, or collecting dust mites.”
As for professional criticism, a couple of mainstream conservation organizations
were worried we'd divert funds from their projects already under way—a charge that
could be leveled at any new initiative, as opposed to evaluating each on its merits.
Critiques from conservation biologists and behavioral ecologists, cited and rebutted in
our 2006 American Naturalist paper, 36 echoed widespread complaints along the lines
of, “Don't you know about rabbits and cane toads in Australia?”—a continent with al-
most no placental mammals and no native toads, hardly comparable to using Old World
cheetahs as proxies for close relatives here less than fifteen thousand years ago. We
countered complaints that Pleistocene rewilding candidates aren't identical to what was
lost by referring to North American peregrine falcons, whose once-endangered popula-
tions were augmented with birds from seven other geographic races, including several
from Eurasia, and no controversy.
More disappointingly, rather than address problematic restoration benchmarks and
the perilous status of megafauna globally, those critics stooped to hyperbole and false-
hoods. They asserted without foundation that we believe “the flora of North America
is essentially unchanged since the Pleistocene,” then labeled “Pleistocene rewilding . .
. only slightly less sensationalistic [than Jurassic Park]” 37 —but the Jurassic was fifteen
thousand times as long ago, and, whereas we advocated rewilding with species that
were lost recently or their close relatives, the nearest living kin of Tyrannosaurus are
birds! Those critics added, “Ironically . . . the same [issue of] Nature documents . . .
humans killed by lions in Tanzania,” but disingenuously ignored that report's prominent
subheading: “understanding the timing and distribution of attacks on rural communit-
ies will help prevent them.” 38 As it happens, ten of the top twelve causes of death in
Tanzania are diseases, the other two being human violence and car wrecks; lion attacks
don't make the top fifty.39 39 Finally, our critics made the puzzlingly erroneous claim that
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