The primary job of a conservationist is to safeguard existing animal species and mitigate the effects of human-related behaviors on their existence. In some cases, however, an animal species may have already gone extinct in a particular region, prompting species reintroduction projects to breathe new life into what would otherwise be an extinct population.
Image Credit: Christoph Müller
Albeit not as familiar as conventional conservation tactics, major species reintroduction projects can be successful if planned correctly. That’s why a team of researchers from Cardiff University is currently surveying certain parts of Wales – to discern if it would be feasible to reintroduce two eagle species that went extinct in the region in the 1800s.
At the epicenter of this research are the golden and white-tailed eagles, both of which were driven to dangerously-low numbers in Wales in the mid-19th century; Sadly, they never bounced back. These magnificent birds still exist in other parts of the world, but modern populations are deteriorating because of factors like human interaction and habitat destruction, among other things.
The scope of most conservationists’ work ends at trying to preserve those remaining golden and white-tailed eagle populations, but the Cardiff University researchers wish to strengthen today’s populations by reintroducing new groups of the birds to their once-native habitat in Wales. Their concept takes the classic ‘divide and conquer’ approach toward trying to save the animals from the threat of extinction.
Species reintroduction projects aren’t as simple as just grabbing a few healthy specimens from one region and relocating them to another; it’s a complex process that involves ensuring that the new land is a suitable habitat and then monitoring the situation post-reintroduction to discern if the efforts were fruitful.
"Wales is home to large expanses of potentially suitable eagle habitat, but, before we begin reintroducing the species, there are many questions we need to answer about the quality of habitat, and whether it can sustain eagles," elucidated Sophie-lee Williams, a researcher from Cardiff University who is involved in the project.
"Working closely with partners such as the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Trust Wales, we are currently carrying out a full feasibility study which will enable us to answer some of these questions and determine whether the Welsh countryside is a suitable location for eagle reintroduction."
Sophie-lee says that the reintroduction project is still in its “early stages” as the researchers work on getting accustomed to Wales’ habitable characteristics. Even if the region is ideal enough for a reintroduction project, it would still take time to obtain the necessary licensing and funding to move forward with it.
If the project succeeds, then it could have ever-lasting benefits; not only would it do great things for the golden and white-tailed eagles, but it could also augment Wales’ tourism, supporting local economies in the process.
It should be interesting to see whether the surveys go well, especially considering all the benefits to be had from reintroducing these species to the region. On the other hand, there’s always the chance that Wales isn’t habitable enough for the birds anymore – in that case, the project would be a no-go.