Elephants and rhinos in Australia ‘could control damaging wild grasses’

African gamba grass, introduced in the 1930s, wreaks havoc on the landscape and provides dangerous fuel for wildfires, experts say

Elephants and rhinoceros should be introduced to the Australian outback to control the impact of damaging wild grasses, according to an Australian professor of environmental change biology. But other Australian academics warned the proposal risked its own set of problems.

Prof David Bowman of the University of Tasmania says the giant African gamba grass, introduced as food for livestock in the 1930s, wreaks havoc on the landscape and provides dangerous fuel for wildfires across northern and central Australia.

“Australia has a deeply troubled ecology and current land management approaches are failing,” he said.

Because of its height, gamba grass almost completely replaces native vegetation. Its fuel load is up to eight times greater than that of native grasses meaning it burns with greater intensity and produces substantial greenhouse gases.

Bowman estimates that at least 5% of the Australian continent was burnt in massive fires last year, an area three times the size of England. He says, if unchecked, the gamba grass has the potential to grow to cover an equivalent area of the country.

In an article for Nature magazine, Bowman proposes introducing large herbivores like elephants and rhinoceroses as a way of containing Gamba grass which can grow to four meters in height.

“It is too big for marsupial grazers (kangaroos) and for cattle or buffalo, the largest feral mammals,” he said.