In the language of conservation biology, there is a term called “the Lazarus Syndrome.” It pertains to a species, written off as extinct, that later is found to exist. Today, ornithologists are debating and hoping that the near-mythical Ivory-billed woodpecker might qualify.
Wyoming has its own citation on the Lazarus map, for it was in the badlands on the east side of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, near Meeteetse, that a remnant black-footed ferret was spotted on Sept. 26, 1981.
As the tale goes, ranchers John and Lucille Hogg found a dead mink-like animal near the dog food dish of their blue heeler, Shep, who had killed it.
Upon closer inspection by a taxidermist, the carcass was positively identified as a black-footed ferret. Further inspection turned up more ferrets and suddenly the species miraculously had risen from the dead two years after the federal government began preparations to declare it gone forever.
Black-footed ferrets cannot survive in the wild without access to healthy prairie dog colonies, their source of food.
Over the last 30 years, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, along with other state, federal, and private partners has done heroic work to get ferrets removed from life support.
Badlands National Park in neighboring South Dakota has become a pillar in that strategy as park biologists know that in order to succeed with ferret restoration it is necessary to also maintain a healthy population of black-tailed prairie dogs. And it's a complicated task, given the prevalence of outbreaks of both Sylvatic plague and canine distemper that can devastate prairie dogs and ferrets alike.
That's why scientists want to establish a number of large, geographically-separated ferret populations to protect against the possibility of a massive plague and distemper event striking prairie dogs and ferrets in one fell swoop.
The goal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to have 1,500 ferrets back on the ground in 10 or more free-ranging separate populations by 2014.
Still, ferrets are among the most-endangered land mammals in North America. They’re caught in the persistent back current of agricultural animosity that would purge prairie dogs from the Western landscape.
Think about this: In the entire West, the goal is reaching 1,500. Fifteen hundred animals surviving on hundreds of million of acres of former homeland aren’t very many.
I mention this story because it provides the opener for Jane Goodall’s new book, Hope For Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued From The Brink.
Quickly in those opening pages a familiar name in North American wildlife photography appears in the text. Jackson Hole's Tom Mangelsen, a dear friend of Ms. Goodall’s and a shooter known for his work in Grand Teton and national parks in Alaska, joins her and a few other biologists from the West in searching for more ferrets.
Later, Ms. Goodall also accompanies Mr. Mangelsen in search of whooping cranes and Attwater’s prairie chickens in Mr. Mangelsen's home state of Nebraska.
Ms. Goodall and Mr. Mangelsen, who met up last autumn at the World Wilderness Congress convention on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, have each made extraordinary contributions to elevating the profile of endangered species.
As one of the great elders of the modern environmental movement, synonymous with chimpanzees, Ms. Goodall has inspired generations of young women and men to pursue careers in field biology.
Mr. Mangelsen, who is revered around the world for his nature photography, has achieved commercial success by highlighting species that aren’t always the most glamorous and by refusing to bolster his portfolio with pictures harvested from game farms.
The notable feature of Ms. Goodall’s book is that it serves as a baseline for telling us the status of several species around the world that are on the edge of winking out.
Amazing are the troglodytes who justify every moral decision within the context of whether it’s good for a human pocketbook or not, wildlife sometimes be damned.
They thrive on portraying polemics between people and nature, invoking Bible passages to assert human dominion in a way that strips away our status as a higher species capable of compassion and moral obligation to look after wildlife.
They love riling people who are gullible enough into either/or propositions. Government—good or evil; environmentalists—good or evil; regulation—good or evil; imperiled species—good or evil.
Intelligent people refuse to accept this false dichotomy. Most realize that these issues are far more complicated. When forced to really think, most people can feel the sinking in their own hearts when they realize that extinctions might occur on their watch and that someday their next of kin will look back asking why it was allowed to happen.
As Ms. Goodall told me the other day in a phone chat, being hopeful for positive change doesn’t mean that one abandons anger, and similarly, getting mad doesn’t inevitably lead to despair and loss of hope.
If, in these challenging times, you want proof that species can be saved and that there’s a moral reason for doing it through human cooperation, read Ms. Goodall’s Hope For The Animals And Their World, and then stroll through Mr. Mangelsen’s gallery, Images of Nature, in downtown Jackson, Wyoming, on your next visit to Grand Teton National Park.