Elephants and rhinoceros the solution to Australia’s gamba grass infestation problem?
Elephants and rhinoceros should be introduced to tackle the problem of invasive African grass growth in Australia, a study said in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
The gamba grass – a fast-growing weed – was introduced in the 1930s as food for livestock and can grow up to 4m tall. It has been spreading through the Australian landscape and are fueling the many wildfires that occur on a yearly basis.
Many imported plant and animal species have wreaked havoc and threatened the balance of the ecosystem. Now one Australian professor believes that introducing another set of non-native animals will control this problem.
Prof David Bowman at the University of Tasmania, who is an environmental change biologist, suggested to fight fire with fire by bringing in exotic megaherbivores that can handle the vast amount of these tall plants.
“It is too big for marsupial grazers (kangaroos) and for cattle and buffalo, the largest feral mammals. But gamba grass is a great meal for elephants or rhinoceros,” Prof Bowman told AFP.
“The idea of introducing elephants may seem absurd,” he wrote in his research. “But the only other methods likely to control gamba grass involve using chemicals or physically clearing the land, which would destroy the habitat.”
He emphasised his stance to the Guardian: “I’m talking about using elephants as a machine or ecological tool to manage this grass.”
But not everyone shares his enthusiasm and are convinced that conventional methods should be exhausted before taking this ‘extreme’ step, as the presence of non-native species have already proven to backfire.
Introduced animals like camels, goats and foxes have had a negative impact on the native wildlife while going ‘rampant’ without their natural predator to keep them in check.
The problem with elephants is that not only will they go after the abundant gamba grass. These mammals have a notorious appetite for trees.
“Are we in Australia (to) hope that the elephants don’t find our native Australian trees tasty?” Prof Patricia Warner at the Australian National University questioned in news.com.au. “Can we somehow command them to eat only introduced African grasses?”
But Prof Bowman is very much aware of the risks involved. “It would be essential to proceed cautiously, with well-designed studies to monitor the effects.”