Animal reintroductions, delicate last-ditch operations

The vultures, on the Grands Causses, the ibex, in the Alps, the aprons, in the waters of the Drôme and the Ardèche, the beavers, almost everywhere on French territory: many are unaware of this, but these species, more or less emblematic, owe their presence on the national territory only to operations of “conservation translocation”, to use the vocabulary in force among naturalists. For about fifty years and the awareness of the blows that our society was dealing to animal diversity, France has experienced dozens of reintroduction operations. “No one can tell you exactly how varied the situations arewarns Michel Salas, director of research and scientific support at the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB). From local associations to hunting federations, via state services, there is no single channel. On the other hand, one thing is certain, it is always a complicated operation, delicate to prepare, delicate to implement, delicate to follow. And expensive. In other words, before embarking on it, you have to make sure that you have met all the conditions. »

Florian Kirchner, in charge of the Species program at the French committee of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), completes the observation. “It’s the last chance operation, the one we practice when all the actions to preserve diversity have failed or proved insufficient.he insists. It’s still a huge effort with a random outcome, so it can’t be generalized. But when you have a small residual population, or even only individuals in captivity, you sometimes have no choice. And success can be there. »

Natural history books often date this practice to the reintroduction of the capercaillie in Scotland in 1837. “But was it only to save him or to be able to shoot him in the long term, already at the time it was not always clear”, says François Sarrazin, professor at Sorbonne University and specialist in translocations. More indisputable was the reinforcement, in the 1890s, of the last bison still in the wild by a herd raised in the Bronx Zoo. No doubt the emblematic species owes its survival to it. Norwegians proudly show off the successful reintroduction of muskox to Dovrefjell in 1932, some 40,000 years after it disappeared from Scandinavia. And the New Zealanders display the transfer, between two of their islands, at the beginning of the XXand century, of the kakapo, this flightless parrot. Return of the story, they again moved the animal to the XXIand century to allow it to escape predators introduced… by man.

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