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9 Controversial Experiments In Rewilding

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Strange as it is to imagine, at one point lions roamed Europe, horses galloped over Spain, and jaguars prowled parts of the United States. The reason these animals died out wasn’t climate change, but humans hunting or destroying their territory.

Rewilding is an effort to bring species back to their native habitats, even if they haven’t lived there for thousands of years. The idea isn’t just to preserve an ecosystem, but to go back in time.

1. Wolves in Yellowstone National Park

Wolves were all but extinct throughout the 20th century in Yellowstone, but between 1995 and 1997, 41 were released and re-introduced to the park. The effect on the ecosystem was dramatic. First, the wolves thinned out the deer population, which were overeating the vegetation. Eventually, valleys and gorges turned into forests. In some cases, trees grew five times their original size. The forests not only brought in more wildlife, but also changed the rivers, which saw less soil erosion due to the new vegetation. In 2011, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species list in Idaho and Montana and was delisted in Wyoming.

2. Wild horses in Spain

For the first time in 2000 years, 48 Retuerta horses are roaming western Spain. The endangered Retuertas are the closest relatives to the wild Iberian horses that lived in the peninsula when the Romans were around. Prior to this experiment, the only remaining Retuerta horses—150 of them—were living in a national park in southern Spain. Releasing two groups of 24 horses in their native territory may prove to increase their odds of survival. As more people abandon rural Spain for the cities, conservationists hope to bring biodiversity to a region that has been historically used as farmland.

3. Tortoises in Ile Aux Aigrettes

Ile Aux Aigrettes in the Indian Ocean was once filled with exotic speciesincluding the now-extinct dodo—until humans logged the trees and brought rats to the tiny island. In 2009, researchers introduced 19 Aldabra giant tortoises, which are similar to the extinct tortoise that used to live on Ile Aux Aigrettes. So far, the tortoises, which can get up to 660 pounds, are helping to reforest by eating the fruit of the ebony tree and depositing the seeds around the island. They also eat the nonnative plants and don’t seem bothered by the rats.

4. Trout in South London

At one time, London’s Wandle River was so polluted, locals said it would turn blue, pink, or red depending on what the tanneries were dumping at that moment. In 2003, the river, which connects to the Thames, was clean enough that trout could be released into it for the first time in 100 years. Today, you can even fish in the river, although the Wandle Valley Park says not to eat the trout “as they may hold high concentrations of heavy metals and other substances due to the river’s long industrial history.” 

5. Jaguars in Mexico

Jaguars once roamed the Southwest United States and Mexico, but these gorgeous animals (the largest cats in the Americas and the only ones that roar) have all but died out in the region. The Northern Jaguar Project is trying to change that. The bi-national nonprofit owns a 45,000-acre preserve in Sonora, Mexico that’s home to an estimated 80 to 120 jaguars. The preserve is located near Arizona, and in time these rare cats may be spotted in the U.S. once again.

6. Beavers in Wales

Beavers were hunted to extinction in Great Britain 500 years ago for their meat, fur, and scent glands. Blaeneinion, a 75-acre preserve in Wales, has introduced three beavers into the wild, and other parts of Wales may be following suit. In fact, the Welsh Beaver Project is considering releasing 30 to 40 beavers in River Rheidol sometime this year. The plan is controversial, with opponents worrying about how these dam-building animals will affect rural Welsh life.

7. Salmon in Washington

Speaking of dams, the Elwha River in Washington is a different kind of rewilding project. Instead of introducing species to the river, conservationists are removing dams so species can come back. Since 2011, dams have been removed and reservoirs have been drained and the river flows freely for the first time in a century. Not only are salmon resuming their historic swim, but the sighting of a Dungeness crab along the banks made front-page news.

8. Heck Cattle in Netherlands

Oostvaardersplassen, a 15,000-acre preserve in the Netherlands, has been stocked with animals that would have lived in the area during ancient times—or as close as you can get, anyway. For example, since aurochs went extinct in the 1600s, researchers brought in Heck cattle (which were developed, oddly enough, by the Nazis). Herds of Heck cattle now roam the preserve, as well as red deer, wild horses, and other animals. For $45, you can tour the preserve in a safari-like experience. But Oostvaardersplassen is far from perfect. Since the preserve has no top predators like wolves, rangers have to shoot animals deemed too weak to survive the winter—an issue that continues to be hotly debated in the news.

9. Wolves and bears in Scotland?

Alladale Wilderness Reserve in Scotland is a rewilding effort by multimillionaire Paul Lister. Since buying the 23,000-acre preserve, Lister has stocked it with deer, highland cattle, wild boar, and the first wild elk born in Scotland in 3000 years. There are also 800,000 indigenous trees, including Caledonian pine. (Scotland used to be so wooded that the Romans called it the “Great Wood of Caledon”—today only 1 percent of those forests survive.) Lister wants to reintroduce wolves and bears to the region, an idea that has been greeted with opposition. Despite this, Lister is moving ahead with a study on releasing two packs of 10 wolves in an enclosed 50,000-acre space. No doubt, he’s drawing on Yellowstone for inspiration.

BONUS: Horses in the Mongolian region

The Przewalski horse is the only surviving subspecies of the Asian wild horse. Stocky, with a thick neck and short mane, the horse used to roam from the Ural Mountains to Mongolia. For much of the 20th century, it was classified as “extinct in the wild.” However, these days there are herds of Przewalski’s horses in parks in Mongolia, Russia, Hungary, and China, according to Scientific American. There’s even a herd in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, which is now a wildlife refuge. The horse has been reclassified as “endangered.”

All images courtesy of Thinkstock.

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Animals
This Is the Age When Puppies Reach 'Peak Cuteness'
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All puppies are cute, but at some point in a young dog's life, it goes from "It's so cute I could squeeze it to death" to merely regular cute. But when? According to one recent study in the journal Anthrozoös, peak cuteness hits between 6 and 8 weeks old for many dogs, The Washington Post reports.

Finding out when puppies reach their peak attractiveness to humans may give us insights into how domestic dogs evolved. Researchers from the University of Florida asked 51 students at the school to look at 39 black-and-white images of dogs, who belonged to three different breeds and whose ages ranged from birth to 8 months. The viewers then rated them on a sliding scale of squishability.

The results will sound familiar to dog lovers. Puppies aren't entirely adorable immediately after they're born—they can look a little rat-like—and the participants rated them accordingly. As dogs get older, as much as we might love them, their squee-worthy cuteness declines, as the attractiveness scores reflected. The sweet spot, it turns out, is right around when puppies are being weaned, or between 6 and 8 weeks old.

The participants tended to rate dogs as most attractive when the pups were within the first 10 weeks of their lives. According to the results, Cane Corsos were at their cutest around 6.3 weeks old, Jack Russell terriers at 7.7 weeks old, and white shepherds at 8.3 weeks.

The study only used still photos of a few breeds, and it's possible that with a more diverse sample, the time of peak cuteness might vary a bit. Certain puppies might be cuter at an older age, and certain puppies might be cuter when they're even younger. But weaning age happens to coincide with the time when puppies are no longer getting as much support from their mothers, and are thus at a high risk of mortality. By evolving to attract human support at a time when they're most vulnerable, puppies might have boosted their chance at survival until they were old enough to completely take care of themselves.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Art
The Cat Art Show Is Coming Back to Los Angeles in June
Martin Wittfooth
Martin Wittfooth

After dazzling cat and art lovers alike in 2014 and again in 2016, the Cat Art Show is ready to land in Los Angeles for a third time. The June exhibition, dubbed Cat Art Show 3: The Sequel Returns Again, will feature feline-centric works from such artists as Mark Ryden, Ellen von Unwerth, and Marion Peck.

Like past shows, this one will explore cats through a variety of themes and media. “The enigmatic feline has been a source of artistic inspiration for thousands of years,” the show's creator and curator Susan Michals said in a press release. “One moment they can be a best friend, the next, an antagonist. They are the perfect subject matter, and works of art, all by themselves.”

While some artists have chosen straightforward interpretations of the starring subject, others are using cats as a springboard into topics like gender, politics, and social media. The sculpture, paintings, and photographs on display will be available to purchase, with prices ranging from $300 to $150,000.

Over 9000 visitors are expected to stop into the Think Tank Gallery in Los Angeles during the show's run from June 14 to June 24. Tickets to the show normally cost $5, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting a cat charity, and admission will be free for everyone on Wednesday, June 20. Check out a few of the works below.

Man in Garfield mask holding cat.
Tiffany Sage

Painting of kitten.
Brandi Milne

Art work of cat in tree.
Kathy Taselitz

Painting of white cat.
Rose Freymuth-Frazier

A cat with no eyes.
Rich Hardcastle

Painting of a cat on a stool.
Vanessa Stockard

Sculpture of pink cat.
Scott Hove

Painting of cat.
Yael Hoenig

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