Expert advises big fix for jumbo-sized problem
KANGAROOS and koalas should share this wide, brown land with elephants, a scientist has advised.
David Bowman, of the University of Tasmania, said the world's biggest herbivores should be brought to Australia to munch their way through the large swath of introduced grasses pushing out native species in northern Australia.
Advice... elephants could eat pest grass. Photo: Reuters
The provocative suggestion by Professor Bowman, a forest ecologist, has been heavily criticised by some scientists as careless, given the potential for the giant creatures to create a greater problem than they will solve, and applauded as a radical solution to a growing environmental conundrum by others.
Regardless, many scientists agree the management of key environmental crises facing large parts of the continent – bushfires and rapidly increasing numbers of feral plants and animals – needs to be rethought.
In his comment piece, published in the journal Nature, Professor Bowman suggests elephants could keep gamba grass, an introduced species invading northern Australia's savannahs, to manageable levels, a solution that would not only reduce the grass but cut a big fuel source often burnt in wildfires.
"It would be essential to proceed cautiously, with well-designed studies to monitor the effects," Professor Bowman said.
He also suggested land managers return to traditional patch burning to reduce out-of-control fires, a program already being trialled in the central Kimberley, and to use Aboriginal hunters to curb feral animal numbers.
An Australian Laureate Fellow with the school of plant biology at The University of Western Australia, Richard Hobbs, agreed that new and varied approaches to tackle Australia's ecological management problems were needed but it was highly likely elephants would become a pest.
"Maybe we need to come to terms with the fact that some of our ecosystems may remain changed because of the species we've already introduced, rather than introducing more in the hope that they can fix things for us," he said.
A senior lecturer with the native and pest animal unit at the University of Western Sydney, Ricky Spencer, said Professor Bowman's comments were careless.
"If we did go down the road of introducing elephants to Australia, we had better develop the technology to clone sabre-tooth tigers to eventually control the elephants," he said.
Professor Bowman admitted his paper was meant to be challenging.
"We are going to be driven, whether we like if or not, to think outside the square because current approaches to land management are not working," he said.