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Rewilding Australia

With the decline in Tasmanian devil numbers due to disease, carcasses now persist more than twice as long in Tasmanian landscapes. Credit: Rafael Ben-Ari/Adobe

With the decline in Tasmanian devil numbers due to disease, carcasses now persist more than twice as long in Tasmanian landscapes. Credit: Rafael Ben-Ari/Adobe

By Chris Johnson

Sometimes the best way to conserve biodiversity is to stand back and let wild animals do the hard work of ecological management.

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In December 2012, the Copenhagen Post reported a discovery that marked a historic turning point for nature in Denmark: the first confirmed record of a wolf in the country in 200 years. Since then, more wolves have been found in the same area, suggesting the existence of a resident pack. One of the most developed countries in Europe just got a bit wilder.

This was not an isolated event. Across Europe, big carnivores are coming back, including wolves, bears, lynx and wolverines.They are mostly managing this by natural population increase and long-distance migration. For instance, DNA analysis showed that some of the Danish wolves had travelled 700 km from eastern Germany. Sometimes conservation organisations have assisted this migration. Brown bears, for example, have been reintroduced to the Italian alps, where they are doing well.

At the same time, large wild herbivores are being restored to some European landscapes. These animals include European bison and even breeds of cattle selected to resemble the aurochs, a massive beast that was the ancestor of domestic cattle and went extinct in the 17th century. Another big turnaround has been in the population of the Eurasian beaver, which was hunted almost to extinction by the end of the 19th century but is back up to 30 million.

These changes are all part of a new philosophy of nature conservation called...

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