Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wild about "Wild"

It was 63 degrees today - balmy for February. I have a certain dread about it. But hey, it’s wet right now so best not to buy trouble. On this date last year there was a bitter wind, snow cover, and it was 3 degrees below zero.

The meadowlarks are singing. Well, one anyway. Yesterday I couldn’t be sure of what I heard, but today on the feed ground the calls were unmistakable. We know these fine fellows can winter here, as we’ve seen groups of them flitting about the stackyard as we’re going back and forth feeding cows. But it is only when spring threatens that they go off by themselves and sing the melody we all know by heart.   

We had such fun last night watching public TV’s, Earth a New Wild. Wow, finally a show about the natural world that wasn’t a doomsday prediction. The show takes us from the Maasai in Kenya and a bat community in Austin, Texas, to black footed ferrets in South Dakota and the odd looking saiga antelope of Russia. The show celebrates man and his place within nature - as an active and caring participant.

We learned about the cherished cows of India, and that when they succumb to natural causes, their carcasses are moved to the outskirts of the city and left to decay. Their remains, once picked sanitizingly clean by hordes of vultures, are now rotting slowly, a putrid sight attracting feral dogs because the vultures are gone. Turns out they died from medicine given to the cows which left residuals in the meat. Once the medicine was banned, and with the help of man, the vultures are returning.

Another story profiled the reindeer of Norway and the hardy people that depend on them for their livelihood. Grazing keeps the tundra alive as the reindeer dig for lichen through the snow. Man assists by castrating some of the males. These males remain vigorous throughout the tough winters since they don’t expend energy on mating. They “break trail” through the ice to get at the lichen making way for the weaker animals of the herd to find food.

The second hour of the film concentrated on The Plains. And three (count’em three!) of the examples showed cows playing an important role in improving and maintaining landscapes that benefit wildlife. The host, Dr. M. Sanjayan, a conservation ecologist, admitted that he had been wrong in the past thinking that cattle and abundant wildlife could not exist in the same space.

I know of course that modern American ranching has its drawbacks. On our ranch we don’t herd cattle like the Maasai or keep our animals bunched like the Montana rancher profiled in the movie. Still, we keep learning, working on shortening the grazing period while lengthening the recovery period as much as we can within the constraints we find ourselves in.   

Our favorite story of the movie was about our hero, Allan Savory, from Zimbabwe, who founded the principles of Holistic Management and introduced the world to planned grazing whereby the needs of the “whole” are tended. Allan is shown in his homeland walking barefoot beside an elephant. He describes the need for more cattle, not less, if we want to reverse biodiversity loss and reinvigorate the brittle grasslands of the world. The key is managing those cattle.

It makes me happy to see an ecologist celebrate Savory’s work. Dr. Sanjayan, upon his visit to the Zimbabwean ranch which is populated with cows and wildlife, called the results, "spectacular.”

The show will continue on February 11. It and any repeat of the first episode should be required viewing, a place to start a conversation without arrows, but with hope.  

putting away some not so wild escapees


  1. we watched the show also. really enjoyed it

  2. I need to watch this! Sounds like maybe some people are realizing that cattle do not destroy grazing areas it is the land of management that does it!