Lions and cheetahs and elephants, yippee


                  Home, home on the veldt,
             Where deer and antelope once dwelt.
        Lion and leopard
        are what we now shepherd,
             We’re playing the hand we’ve been dealt.

In a recent Nature magazine article, scientists suggest that threatened African wildlife can be saved by moving the animals to the American Great Plains.

What a great way to restore our faith in cowboys! Many have forgotten that cowboys with broken bones regularly compete in bronc and bull riding, and all have survived lousy prices and federal officials who think "cattle guard" is a job description. Some are so rugged they carry a cell phone in their pants, right next to their reproductive equipment. These boys ain’t scared of nothing but they need respect, and the African scheme might be the right gimmick to revitalize cowboy traditions, especially rodeo.

Team ropers, for example, would need longer ropes and taller horses for heading and heeling giraffes. Changes in the bucking lineup might send longhorn bulls to the Old Leopards’ Home. Instead of riding bareback broncs, cowboys would take the Zebra Challenge: First, they catch one. Oryx-Dogging, anyone? Lasso a Leopard?

Some bull riders wear helmets, but rhinoceros riders might need full body armor for a rank mount. Competition would be lively for the Wildebeest and Warthog Wrastles. Teens hooked on hiphop would love Hippo Milking. Instead of Bull Fighting, fearless clowns could leap in and out of barrels in an arena full of big cats — right after the felines put the zing back in Barrel Racing. And for beginning cowchildren wearing helmets, Dikdik Dogging!

Fresh wildlife will liven up Great Plains ecotourism: At Mount Rushmore, photograph the lions on Teddy Roosevelt’s head. Bully!

This African change on the range could demonstrate how relevant a cowboy’s skills are to this modern world. Who do you call if the lions eat too many tourists? A cowboy, of course, whose predecessors roped timber wolves and grizzly bears. Limber up those lariats and let’s get Western!

Proponents of a Western veldt mention lions stalking deer in Nebraska cornfields, but predators follow game, and the kitties might prefer something slower. Shoppers, say, in a Denver mall. Picture it: Screaming crowds flee a grumbling lion until ... Look – just past that Victoria’s Secret: a lone cowboy appears between the fake trees, lariat spinning. Pity about the animal-rights activist who leapt protectively in front of the lion.

Since a horse’s hooves might slip on the tile, the mall-patrol cowboy will take advice from our Middle Eastern friends, choosing a bullet-proof Mercedes. This might also be the perfect time for Cowboy Joe to master a new mount.

                   How he sings
                   raggy music to his camel
        as he bumps
        back and forward in his saddle.....
        on his hump. . .
Of course, new predators would change how we deal with endangered species. Forget ferrets; the wild dogs would eat them while the jackals finished off the wolves. Baboons, chimps, and gorillas might revitalize small towns by providing the cheap labor we’ve lost to cities. Sustainable economic development: no wages.

Today, our home on the range is overrun with pseudo-cowboys starving their horses on five-acre lots. Toothy predators in Jackson, Dallas and Aspen could fix that. Wanna be a cowboy? Polish your spurs and patrol your own ranchette. Can your snowmobile outrun a cheetah?

Leopards and lions would improve the gene pool of the pampered elk in national parks and prune the skiers’ family trees. Since elephants like woody plants, they could thin the woods and reduce fire danger where tree-huggers have stopped logging. Hyenas would tidy up, gobbling down the McDonald’s cartons, beer cans and mattresses tourists discard.

The fall roundup will separate the real cowboys from the faux and give New Westerners a chance to Cowboy Up. We might need longer branding irons; sacrifice redwoods for taller corrals. Better yet, forget bison; let’s create the African Wildlife Commons. Herds of elephants and wildebeest thundering across interstates, trampling 18-wheelers, would bring new meaning to the words "rush hour" and humility to Hummer drivers. Talk about a win-win situation.

One more plus: Subdivisions, scourge of the West, would become endangered as folks decided they’d rather live closer to jobs and food. If the prairie is "rewilded" by African wildlife, as the scientists say, only cowboys, those tough, taciturn folks who settled it, will live here. "Come back, Shane!"

Linda M. Hasselstrom is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She ranches in western South Dakota, which can be pretty darn Western without elephants, and lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, home of Frontier Days rodeo, "the Daddy of Them All."

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at