Back on Top

By Victoria Grant

“Wilderness without animals is dead—dead scenery. Animals without wilderness are a closed book.”

-Lois Crisler

Image result for lois crisler wolves

Busch, Robert. 1995/98. Wolves and Ravens: A Fascinating Relationship. Photo. Copyright © 2011 White Wolf .

Ecosystems consist of perfectly intertwined organisms who contribute to the niche where they take residence. The absence of one species creates a domino effect in the different populations who get affected. Top predators often fall victim to prejudices which, result in their disappearance in their natural environment. When top predators leave their ecosystem, a trophic cascade occurs and the impacts can be detrimental to the system. Reintroduction of top predator species provides the greatest opportunity to improve the environment.

The Rewilding Movement and the Opposition

The push for top predator reintroduction has become known as the Rewilding movement. Rewilding contains many definitions but, is generally understood as the restoration of wilderness by using the regulatory role of large predators (Soulé and Noss 1998). The concept revolves around the understanding of the trophic cascade. Trophic cascades refer to the cascading impact of large predators in their niche (Cromsigt and te Beest, 2014). Many predators are keystone species which, refer to their importance in their environment. Keystone species are organisms which have great influence on the health and balance of an ecosystem. When keystone species disappear from their niche, a ripple effect of consequences becomes realized. The effect of the disappearance of a keystone species involves an intricate web of interactions rather than a linear connection. An example of the web of connection would include the direct impact of uncontrollable populations of prey species, spread of disease, and in some cases, erosion of rivers. Ecology studies the intricacy of the relationships between biotic and abiotic factors in ecosystems. Ecological studies show evidence of devastating impacts on the environment when the top predators of the system disappear. By observing the negative impact of removing a keystone species, researchers believe the logical correction would be to reintroduce the species and allow for those species to naturally correct the ecosystem. The movement believes the reintroduction of predators will be crucial for restoration but, many conservationists face opposition from the general public.

Part of the opposition for the movement to reintroduce species comes from the public’s belief of wilderness equaling wildness. For most people, wilderness means large plots of untouched land. People think of wilderness and believe there is a need to move back in development and progress. For some people, protecting wilderness equates to taking away autonomy. By protecting wilderness, people cannot expand and their decisions must revolve around animals that they may not care about protecting. People do not want wilderness when wilderness stops them from doing what they wish but, researchers, like Robert L. Chapman, found wilderness does not have to be the same as wildness. Wilderness refers to the space needed but, wildness refers to the autonomy of a system (Chapman, 2004, 2006). Wildness means the system self-sustains without the need of human assistance (Woods, 2005). Top predators help with the self-sufficiency of an ecosystem. Predators naturally act as regulators in their environments through their actions. Large predators help control the population of their prey, they support biodiversity by picking off the organisms with the weak traits, and control the spread of disease by eating the sick animals. The list of the impacts of predators goes on and their impact is felt by biotic and abiotic organisms. Wolves provide an example of the abiotic factors affected by the presence of top predators. In reintroduction studies, researchers found the rivers in the areas of wolf reintroduction to improve when wolves came back into the environment. When the wolves came back into the environment, they began to regulate the prey population (elk) which, had grown substantially with the absence of their predator. Once the prey population decreased, the deer did not eat the plants around the river with such severity. The plant population increased and the erosion of the river decreases which resulted in the movement of the water (Farquhar). The impact of one species can be felt in multiple ways but, besides the thought of losing progress, many people still reject the idea of reintroduction due to fear.

The relationship of humans and wildlife has been rocky for centuries especially, when the interactions are between humans and large predators. Many people feared predators because, of the threat they had to their livestock and the lives of the people around them. The fear of the potential risk led to the wild extinction of many large predators today. The problem with the fear of predators comes from evidence proving the fears to be largely overhyped. In 2002, Mark E. McNay, of Alaska Department of Fish & Game, complied a bulletin of human-wolf interactions to analyze the risk of wolves to humans. Through his research, McNay found the risk frequently associated with wolves to humans is not accurate compared to the documented history. The number of wolves attacking humans is low and the number of unprovoked attacks by healthy wolves is even lower. Wolves are not the only animal to have an undeserved dangerous reputation. Cougars often are thought of dangerous predators which will attack people if encountered. People are more likely to be struck by lightning than be attacked by a cougar according to the documented history of attacks (MLF 2017). The fear for livestock is more warranted but, does not have to stop reintroduction. Instead of stopping predators from being reintroduced, a change of culture is necessary. Predators threaten livestock if they are left alone for long periods of time with no protection. Farmers can use guard animals and bring in their livestock at night to protect their property from predators without much change to their lives (Braithwait 1996). The little changes are better than losing property or stopping conservationists from restoring the environment.

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Mountain Lion Photo. KBOI Web Staff.

Communicating the Information

“If we choose to call the former [Chess-Player] a pure machine we must be prepared to admit that it is, beyond all comparison, the most wonderful of the inventions of mankind.”

-Edgar Allan Poe, Maelzel’s Chess-Player (c. 1830)

Many of the opinions which oppose large predator reintroduction use information which does not convey the truth of the movement. The information often relies of outdated beliefs or the misunderstanding of the general public. Although evidence, like the evidence stated, disprove the points made by the opposing side, many people cannot access the information. Most of the opposition faced with the Rewilding Movement could be torn down if people were properly educated of the benefits and little risk associated with large predator reintroduction. Thinking about the need to convey the importance of the issue and the correct information, I began to think of the best way to get the information out in the most comprehendible way. When thinking about the communicating the information, I began to think about board games.

Board games have been an integral piece to human enjoyment and education for thousands of years. Board games are a fun and easy tool to convey information. People can watch commercials, read brochures, or take a class and not retain information similar to the way information is retained by playing a board game.  Boards games help players learn because, they support reinforcement learning.

Reinforcement learning can be thought of as a reward system which uses the individual’s ability to comprehend information. Through reinforcement learning, individuals chose their actions but, the action can be good or bad based on the award given (Ghory 2004). The individual then takes the good or bad feedback to improve their actions in the future. Board games work on a “temporal credit assignment problem” (Ghory 2004) type of system. Temporal credit assignment problems require individuals to take several steps to receive their desired reward. Different tools where added to the board game to help improve the instruction acquired while playing the game.



Sample Cards

Ecology branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surrounding Ecosystem system that includes all living organisms (biotic factors) in an area as well as its physical environment (abiotic factors) functioning together as a unit
Top Down Cascade  trophic cascade where the food chain or food web is disrupted by the removal of a top predator, or a third or fourth level consumer Trophic Cascade occur when predators in a food web suppress the abundance or alter the behavior of their prey, thereby releasing the next lower trophic level from predation
Extinction process of a species, family, or larger group disappearing Top Down System interactions at top level consumers (predators) and their prey influence on lower trophic forms
Biodiversity variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat or ecosystem Trophic Level position that an organism occupies in a food chain
Reintroduction the action of putting a species of animal or plant back into a former habitat Food Chain feeding hierarchy in which organisms in an ecosystem are grouped into trophic (nutritional) levels and are shown in a succession to represent the flow of food energy and the feeding relationships between them
Keystone Species species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically Food Web graphical model showing the interconnecting food chains in an ecological community
Predator animal that naturally preys on others Wildlife Management manipulation of wildlife populations and habitat to achieve a goal
Niche way in which an organism fits into an ecological community or ecosystem Foundation Species species that has a strong role in structuring a community


The memory game portion of the board helps introduce basic vocabulary necessary to understand the information of the Rewilding movement. Flashcards retest the players rather than support the idea of studying. By retesting the material, the players retain the information better. Tests have been proven to help individuals better comprehend information. Through tests, individuals feel motivated to truly grasp the information and improve studying by showing the individual what they do not understand (Schmidmaier 2011). Testing works more effectively in the same amount of time as studying and studiers remember the information longer. Flashcards provide a quick and easy study tool and by turning the flashcards into a game of memory, studying becomes more entertaining.


Sample Question: Which are the following animals would NOT be a guard animal for livestock?

  1. Dog
    1. Historically, dogs have been used for protecting livestock. They are easily trained and loyal to their herd.
  2. Llama
    1. Aggressive to dogs and coyotes, llamas give off a loud, warning alarm and attack threats to the herd. They sometimes kill off the threat because of their aggressive pawing and kicks.
  3. Horse
    1. Wrong
  4. Donkey
    1. Donkeys naturally dislike dogs which, are often the predators which attack livestock. They have been known to intimidate and chase off dogs while socializing with the animals they are protecting.

The question section consists of varying types of questions. The questions provide an exploratory element along with the use of tests to help retain information. The diversity of the questions make the game interesting and helps maintain the stimulation of the brain. By adding different types of questions, the brain must constantly think in different ways and use different strategies to find the answer. The questions again test the players to improve their process of comprehending information. Through the constant tests, they learn whether they truly understand the information or not.

*The answers will be on the other side of the card with a brief explanation. Players should not know just what is the right answer but also, why the answer makes sense. Players should end the game feeling like they learned something and were not just given empty facts.

Act It Out

Sample Scene: Act out the trophic cascade

The acting portion of the game gives the brain a creative outlet to understand the information. Assigned scenes force players to figure out how to best convey the information while forcing the other players to work to understand what the player is attempting to convey. The Act It Out section creates a check system. If a player cannot act out the information then, they may not be understanding the information and their team mates can help explain the information to them. Likewise, if a player cannot guess the scene then, they may not be comprehending the material as well and their team can help them.



Works Cited

Braithwait, Jim. 1996. Using Guard Animals to Protect Livestock. Missouri Department of Conservation. 1-14.

Busch, Robert. 1995/98. Wolves and Ravens: A Fascinating Relationship. Photo.

Chapman, R. 2004. ‘Crowded solitude: Thoreau on wildness’. Journal of Environmental Philosophy 1: 58–72

Chapman, R. 2006. ‘Ecological restoration restored’. Environmental Values 15: 463– 478.

Cromsigt, J.P.G.M. and M. te Beest. 2014. ‘Restoration of a megaherbivore: Landscape level impacts of white rhinoceros in Kruger National Park, South Africa’. Journal of Ecology 102(3): 566–575.

Farquhar, Brodie. 2017. Wolf Reintroduction Changes Ecosystem. Yellowstone Park.

Ghory, Imran. 2004. Reinforcement learning in board games. University of Bristol. 1-57.

McNay, Mark E. 2002. A case history of wolf-human encounters in Alaska and Canada. Alaska Fish and Game Wildlife Technical Bulletin 13. 1-52.

Mountain Lion Foundation. 2017. Are Mountain Lions Dangerous?

Mountain Lion Photo. KBOI Web Staff.

Schmidmaier, Ralf et al. 2011. Using electronic flashcards to promote learning in medical students: retesting versus restudying. Medical Education.

Soulè, Michael and Noss, Reed. “Rewilding and Biodiversity as Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation,” Wild Earth, Fall 1998, 22.

Woods, M. 2005. ‘Ecological restoration and the renewal of wildness and freedom’. In T. Heyd (ed.), Recognizing the Autonomy of Nature: Theory and Practice, pp. 170–188. New York, NY: Columbia University Press