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the bolson tortoise can't exemplify Pleistocene rewilding, because it lived in New Mex-
ico during historic times. 40
In fact, those hundred-pound turtles demonstrate how things might proceed, as well
as underscore the most telling objection to Pleistocene rewilding. Gopherus flavomar-
ginatus, cousin to the smaller gopher tortoise of Florida and Georgia, was first dis-
covered in 1958, still roaming north-central Mexico's Bolsón de Mapimí, though as
fossils demonstrated, until the end of the Pleistocene it was much more widely distrib-
uted in the Chihuahuan Desert. 41 Subsistence hunting and habitat change now threaten
the remaining populations of those tortoises. When I proposed them among the rewild-
ing exemplars, I expected skeptics to bring up disease, local ecological shifts, and ge-
netic differences between restoration animals and those that had been lost. But as no
critics objected to returning the bolsons to the United States, I infer that deep down
what really bothered folks was that big cats and elephants, unlike turtles, are danger-
ous. In other words, NLIMBY: no lions in my back yard! 42
Our first night at the Ladder Ranch, Jane Bock, not yet knowing our agenda, said to
me, “You're a herpetologist; we need advice. Ariel Appleton, who owned the Appleton-
Whittell Research Ranch near Tucson where we've worked for decades, just died. In the
1970s, she brought a handful of bolson tortoises out of Mexico, and her family wants to
do something creative with the resulting twenty-six animals.” 43 As my jaw dropped, Joe
Truett, sitting next us, chimed in with a grin, “Ted loves turtles.” Long story short, Turn-
er funded a strategy conference, health screening, and transport of the Appleton tor-
toises to one of his New Mexico ranches on which plant communities closely resemble
those where the species still lives in Mexico. A single animal died the winter follow-
ing translocation, but the others have thrived, raising the possibility that bolsons may
someday have two widely separated populations with which to face climate change. 44
So what have we learned? That many conservationists are surprised that mammoths
so recently went extinct and North American peregrines were reconstituted from Euras-
ian stock. That many people are averse to “playing god” with the environment, the more
so with dangerous animals—Henry Fitch documented copperheads shifting diets as en-
croaching woodland forced out grassland prey species, yet was uneasy about restoring
prairie on his Kansas study site, 45 while only decades after the extinction of panthers
in Florida's Panhandle, outraged locals protested that reintroduced cats would eat their
kids. 46 And as philosophical critiques make clear, we still lack broadly justified conser-
vation benchmarks, be they five hundred or fifteen thousand years ago, be they single
species or so-called intact ecosystems. 47 For me, Paul Martin's clarion call to save the
megafauna still rings true, as does a suspicion that for many folks, embracing life's vi-
olent side is especially problematic in terms of caring about nature. 48
In point of fact, shortly before the Ladder Ranch meeting a rattlesnake reminded me
that living with natural-born killers isn't easy, and placing that incident in perspective
has involved a lot of miles walked, before and since.
Eleven years old, crammed in a car with four older Boy Scouts and our troop leader, I set
out from Arkansas for Kentucky to hike fifty-seven miles in four days. I had no idea what
lay ahead, only recently having trudged a personal best of five miles under the watchful
eye of my dad in a nearby car. With scoutmaster tutelage, we'd hammered pack frames
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