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Gila Monsters and Mitigation Translocation—What’s Wrong?

Sullivan, Brian K.

Center for Biodiversity Outcomes

Arizona State University

Glendale, Arizona USA

Kwiatkowski, Matthew A.

Department of Biology

Stephen F. Austin State University Nacogdoches, Texas USA

There is considerable confusion surrounding the term “translocation.” Historically, in North America, it has been reserved for conservation actions concerning individual nuisance wildlife: a single organism is relocated given a perceived conflict with humankind. Recently, the IUCN broadened the definition of translocation to include all forms of purposeful movement of animals (e.g., relocation, re-introduction, repatriation). They redefined movement of individual nuisance wildlife as “mitigation translocation” (i.e., problematically synonymous with the historical North American usage of translocation). This semantic issue aside, relocation of nuisance organisms has been long viewed as a win-win for humans and wildlife. In the light of four decades of radio telemetry studies, however, it is now clear that translocated subjects are compromised by this practice. Gila monsters, desert tortoises, and crotalids have all been subjected to mitigation translocation and follow-up studies consistently provide evidence of negative outcomes. Additionally, reliance on mitigation translocation to offset the environmental cost of some activity (e.g., development leading to habitat alteration and loss) has resulted in public acceptance of habitat loss as an appropriate trade-off given one outcome is the preservation of individual organisms. This is the second and much more significant problem with mitigation translocation. We argue conservation is best served when we focus on habitats and populations, and less so on the sanctity of individuals.

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