20th-century Noahs try to save vanishing species
(Page 2 of 2)
The view of those who ask, ''What good is a 'wild' animal without a habitat?'' is understandable, says Flesness. But he answers: ''If animals which otherwise would become extinct do survive in captivity, it widens future options and justifies the programs. There could even be future benefits from domestication. No animals have been truly domesticated for hundreds of years, but who knows what may prove possible in the future?''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Further considerations are ''aesthetics, science, and eventual rehabilitation ,'' adds Flesness. ''A living beast such as a Bengal tiger is a beautiful heritage, like a Michelangelo sculpture. Saving them for future generations is worthwhile.''
Flesness points out that disappearance of many species would rob scientists of valuable knowledge. And, like Mr. Jouett in San Diego, he believes that ''within some relatively moderate period we may be able to bring back (their) habitat.''
In recent years three species have been returned to their natural habitats - even though those places may not be as wild as their original homes.
The North American buffalo, rescued by a combination of protection in its habitat and breeding in captivity, is thriving in South Dakota's Black Hills. The European buffalo, which had become extinct on that continent, was successfully bred in captivity and now roams free on a large preserve in Poland. Two years ago, the Arabian oryx (a large, hoofed mammal similar to the antelope) was restored to its original habitat after successful breeding in the Phoenix Zoo. Societal changes - chiefly the wealth oil has brought to Saudi Arabia - have transformed former hunters of the oryx into its protectors, says Flesness.
Approximately 30 species are being bred in captivity now with the aid of AAZPA and ISIS. Flesness says that after these projects are well established, more will be added. Eventually as many as 200 species may be involved, he adds.
John Ogden, director of the National Audubon Society's field work in the California Condor Project, says he is ''extremely pleased with what we're doing in the field.'' Two of the birds have been captured and released with radios attached to them, he reports, and they are ''answering a lot of questions about where condors are and where they are feeding.''
A ''surprising discovery,'' he says, was that a group of four or five ''immature sub-adults'' seem to ''hang out'' during the winter and the nesting season in the Sierra foothills in northern Kern County.
Remote ranches in the area, he says, provide sufficient animal carcasses for the carrion-eating condors to feed on. He sees the possibility that this part of the San Joaquin Valley can become a significant habitat for the California condor, providing the ranches do not give way to more intensive land uses.
Protecting a habitat for the condors to remain in the wild - the present population is estimated at 18 to 20, including four nesting pairs - is his priority, says Mr. Ogden. ''We have to worry about the ranches surviving,'' he admits. ''We've even discussed the possibility of subsidizing them, or perhaps obtaining a tax break for them.''
Ogden says he feels that there is ''fairly broad public support'' for the condor program, which combines work to preserve the species in the wild with captive breeding.
''By and large, captive breeding populations (of wild species) are successful ,'' he says. ''Still, the goal should never be just to have a captive population , but to restore the species to the wild.''