Good Reads: Boomtown slum, democracy in progress, and 'rewilding' in the Netherlands
This week's good reads include a day in Kenya's bustling Kibera slum, the struggle to promote democracy in the Arab world, and a radical conservation theory in the Netherlands.
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Recall of the wild
The future of conservation may not be in saving nature from destruction, but rather creating a “new wilderness.” An ecological experiment in the Netherlands is turning traditional conservation theory on its head, and it has inspired a new movement called “rewilding,” which claims that nature can be created, not just managed or destroyed.
In the Netherland’s Flevoland Province – which used to be under water until a drainage project uncovered it in the 1950s – biologists used some of the new land to create a habitat similar to that found during Paleolithic times.
In The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert describes how biologists convinced the Dutch government to save a 15,000-acre reserve of the drained land – known as Oostvaardersplassen – as grazing land for herbivores most closely linked to their extinct predecessors: aurochs, red deer, tarpans, and European bison. The theory is that Europe used to have a more “parklike landscape,” which was maintained by herds of animals eating the vegetation. The reserve created an opportunity to see how this ecological system operated, and to see if other animal species would return.
“What we see here is that, instead of what many nature conservationists think – that something that is lost is lost forever – you can have the conditions to have it redeveloped,” Frans Vera, an ecologist, told Ms. Kolbert. Rewilding has spread to other areas in Europe as well, including Spain, Portugal, and Siberia. The scientists say the idea represents a “proactive agenda” as opposed to waiting to see what happens in nature.
Oostvaardersplassen attracts tourists who come to see the almost safari-like setting, but there is some controversy. Because the reserve aims to represent the wild, animals are left to the elements and suffer from such things as food shortages. Mr. Vera anticipates that the reserve will eventually attract the region’s natural predators – wolves – to reduce herd overpopulations.
“On a planet increasingly dominated by people – even the deep oceans today are being altered by humans – it probably makes sense to think about wilderness, too, as a human creation,” Kolbert writes.
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