Land & Environment

Cheetahs around Cheyenne? New Book Reviews the Rewilding Concept in Ecology

By Traci Hillyard |

This pronghorn fawn looks as alarmed as some people were when early advocates of rewilding proposed bringing in cheetahs and other exotic large mammals to recreate Ice Age ecosystems in North America. Since then the rewilding concept has developed into a pragmatic, science-based approach for reorganizing damaged ecosystems that cannot be restored to their former conditions, mainly because of extinctions and climate change.

A new scientific book, commissioned by the British Ecological Society and published by Cambridge University Press, provides the first comprehensive and rigorous review of the rewilding concept. It was a topic of controversy more than a decade ago when a handful of audacious conservationists advocated for the introduction of surrogates for extinct megafauna (big charismatic mammals like elephants, lions and cheetahs) to North America to recreate Ice Age ecosystems. 

Not surprisingly, that particular idea had few takers but the rewilding concept is rapidly attracting new interest, especially in Europe. There, abandoned agricultural lands offer new opportunities to weave some wildness into human-dominated landscapes. The notion is appealing: self-regulating and self-sustaining ecosystems that provide services of benefit to humanity, with species that are already adapted to a new climate. Internationally recognized scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Utah State University have edited the new and definitive volume, titled Rewilding. It investigates how rewilding could prove beneficial to wildlife and human coexistence on all continents. 

“Rewilding currently means different things to different people, but the book clarifies it as the process of reorganising, retooling or regenerating wildness in a degraded ecosystem,” said Johan du Toit from USU’s Wildland Resources Department in the College of Natural Resources and co-editor of the book. “That is not the same as restoring an ecosystem to its former condition, which is an increasingly challenging and tenuous goal under the rapidly-changing conditions of our human-influenced planet. Rewilding is an adaptive and pragmatic approach for regaining and maintaining the provision of ecosystem services, which are essential for humanity.” 

Rewilding is not without its critics.

“As tense as the current debate may appear, whoever is concerned with the conservation of nature cannot afford to ignore discussions on rewilding and miss potential opportunities to improve biodiversity levels,” said Nathalie Pettorelli with the Zoological Society of London. 

The peer-reviewed book includes contributions from an international list of leading ecologists and social scientists who critically examine definitions and approaches to rewilding, highlighting similarities and differences between methods and discussing how they work in practice. 

“Rewilding has the potential to deliver a progressive and resilient approach to wildlife management, connecting people with, rather than separating them from, nature,” Pettorelli said. “It directly feeds into discussions relating to coexistence, societal values and tolerance for wildlife and inviting nature right back to our doorstep.” 

The book describes how rewilding will require consensus building and understanding of different opinions to foster human-wildlife coexistence.

To request a sample copy of Rewilding for review, visit

The book is part of the British Ecological Society’s ‘Ecological Reviews’ series published with Cambridge University Press, which aims to be a source of ideas and inspiration for ecologists at all career levels. It will be available for purchase here (£37.99 for paperback, ISBN 9781108460125):

Professor Johan du Toit with the Wildland Resources Department in S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources.


Traci Hillyard
Public Information Officer
S. J. Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources


Johan Du Toit
Wildland Resources Department



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