Pleistocene Park

I’ve written about the Buffalo Commons (here & here), now the concept has jumped the pond to the Old World (or maybe it really originated there). The Dutch, at Oostvaardersplassen (featured in a New Yorker Magazine article that inspired this post) have attempted to create a simulacrum landscape of the 13,000 years-ago Pleistocene on a reclaimed polder (circa 1968). This is not Ye Olde La Brea Tar Pits, but a living landscape populated by proxy megafauna.

The Rewilding Europe Project has established five sites in 2010: Danube Delta, Eastern Carpathians, Southern Carpathians, Velebit and Western Iberia. Projects elsewhere include, Spain’s Campanarios de Azaba  to their border with Portugal, Lake Pape in Latvia, the Pleistocene Park in far-eastern Siberia aims to restore the Mammoth Steppe Ecosystem (they are attempting to clone woolly mammoths with Korean scientists), and further-a-field there is a tortoise reintroduction program on Mascarene Islands near Madagascar.


Oostvaardensplassen [OVP] is now inhabited with proxy animals to those long extinct, Heck cattle (proxy for Aurochs) from Germany were introduced in 1983, Konik horses (for tarpans) from Poland in 1984, and Red Deer from Scottland in the 1990s). (Why not European Bison?) Birds and variety of smaller mammals (like foxes and muskrats) colonized the site on their own. But OVP is not wilderness, but a managed parkland, where dying animals are euthanized ’10–20% of the large herbivores in the park die from natural causes or are killed by humans’. There is no attempt at bringing back apex predators proxies for Dire Wolves, Saber-Tooth Tigers, Wooly Mammoths, or European Lions of yore that are really needed to re-establish a healthy ecosystem. Modern Grey Wolves are expected to reach the area in a few decades though.

Another interesting aspect to the location is that during the Pleistocene, it was dry land (see below) and became underwater only after the end of the last ice age. One other distinction of this project is that the site was not abandoned or depopulated, but was intended to be an industrial development before the spontaneous colonization by wildlife inspired the park.

Map of the North Sea with Holocene shorelines – Oostvaardersplassen is just to the left of the key for 8700 yr on the Southeastern shore of the Markemeer

One last comments on OVP is the political aspect of letting feral animals fend for themselves so close to a large human population – where biopolitics and other political motives threaten to interfere in the ecological processes. Thanks to for bringing in the post-modern readings and invoking Deleuze and Guattari, Bruno Latour, Bill Cronon

Rewilding Europe

Rewilding Europe is closest in scale and ambition to the Buffalo Commons, and aims to:

  1. Rewild 1 million hectares of land in Europe by 2020, creating 10 magnificent wildlife and wilderness areas which may serve as inspirational showcases all across Europe.
  2. Help turn the problems caused by the on-going land abandonment into opportunities for man and nature alike, providing a viable business case for wild nature in Europe.
  3. Launch a new conservation vision for Europe, with wild nature and natural processes as key elements, where rewilding is applicable to any type of landscape or level of protection.

Their active sites are:

For more, it’s worth checking out: Guiding Principles Rewilding Europe [pdf] and their FAQs.

Pleistocencene Park – Siberia

Pleistocene Park’s current megafauna:

  • Eurasian Lynx
  • Grey Wolf
  • Arctic fox
  • Eurasian Brown Bear
  • Wolverine (member of the weasel family NOT X-Men)
  • Reindeer
  • Elk
  • European Bison
  • Moose
BUT the whole experiment becomes more interesting when we look at the animals that the project is hoping to introduce:
  • Amur Leopard
  • Siberian Tiger
  • Asiatic Lion
  • Spotted Hyena
  • Yak
  • Bactrian Camel
  • Woolly Mammoth
  • Rhinocerous

Extirpation and relocating megafauna

Assisted Migration

Depopulated areas

Other rewilding projects

  • Alladale
  • Bavarian Forest
  • Chernobyl
  • Ticha Valley


Other sites and articles

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