We're regularly told that we must walk more lightly upon this earth, that we have to make room for the other species, that the loss of biodiversity threatens us all. I agree with those thoughts. Where I disagree is in the prescription by which we should do so. For we go on to be told that we must become more like our ancestors, live closer to nature, in order to do so, return to some Rousseauesque paradise of few of us living off the land in the manner of our forefathers.
That doesn't seem to match up with what the professionals are telling us here now does it? In the case of what is now the USA, a couple of million hunter gatherers (known as the Clovis Culture) wiped out those large animals that we're talking about. Now, with three hundred million in the same area we appear to have sufficient land to save the Megafauna of other continents.
I certainly do recall that most big animals' extinction were the result of over-hunting by primitive peoples, as demonstrated by the killing of the woolly mammoth during last ice age. Modern industrialized societies have instituted a system of collecting and conserving large animals through zoos and nature preserves that cannot be easily found in less developed territories, where hunting and poaching make for a logical means of survival. For those who study closely the problem of biodiversity loss, there is an essential correlation between economic prosperity and species preservation. A slash-and-burn peasant farmer in Brazil has no economic incentive to preserve a species in the Amazon, especially if that specie is still unaccounted for by biologists. For someone who constantly worries about how he will be fed that day, the value in protecting rare creature is almost nill. In contrast, for a very well-fed American office worker, the thought of observing a rare bird or an exotic large feline has great value in the spiritual sense, while its economic value is negligible. The fact that millions of dollars have been spent saving certain rare birds in captivity (the california condor, peregrine falcon, bald eagle) and that numerous laws were passed to enforce species preservation is a testament not only to a raised environmental awareness among Americans, but also to the high level of prosperity that can pay for policies with no real intrinsic economic value.
The very thought of restoring populations of large species of elephants, felines, is indeed quite plausible with all the open land in North America. Read the article to understand the context in which Worstall comes up with the above realization.