In the early 1980s the Dutch ecologist Frans Vera began an ambitious ecological restoration experiment on a polder in the Netherlands. He introduced herds of ‘back-bred’ Heck cattle and other large herbivores and encouraged them to ‘de-domesticate’ themselves and ‘rewild’ the landscape they inhabit. His intervention has triggered a great deal of interest and controversy. It is being replicated and adapted across Europe as part of a wider interest in ‘rewilding’ in nature conservation. This innovative approach rubs up against powerful and prevalent practices of environmental management. This paper examines these frictions by mapping the character and exploring the interface between different modes of nonhuman biopolitics – in this case the powerful ways in which modern humans live with and govern cattle. Focusing on the story of Heck cattle and the bovine biopolitics of their rewilding it attends in particular to the character, place and promise of monsters. It first outlines a conceptual framework for examining nonhuman biopolitics and teratology (the study of monsters), identifying fertile tensions between the work of Haraway, Derrida and Deleuze. It then provides a typology of four prevalent modes of bovine biopolitics – namely agriculture, conservation, welfare and biosecurity – and their associated monsters. This paper identifies rewilding as a fifth mode and examines frictions at its interfaces with the other four. Developing the conceptual framework the paper examines what these frictions tell us about the understandings of life that circulate in the ontological politics of contemporary environmentalisms. In conclusion the paper critically examines the monstrous promise of rewilding, in relation to tensions between the convivial aspirations of Haraway and Deleuze.
- nature conservation