What kind of thinking leads to the unleashing of exotic species on unsuspecting ecosystems? Hint: it’s certainly not systems thinking or critical thinking – in fact, thinking may not be involved at all! Learn about three charter members of the Weirdo Hall of Fame who wanted you to eat tasty McHippo bacon burgers for breakfast. Influenced by the illusion of control and brainwashed by the industrial mindset, people have recklessly released plants and animals into environments where they cause colossal carnage. Perhaps you should think twice (first time in systems, second time critically) before accepting membership into the Society for the Acclimatization of Animals, Birds, Fishes, Insects and Vegetables. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Jason Bradford

I’m Jason Bradford,

Asher Miller

I’m Asher Miller.

Rob Dietz

And I’m Rob Dietz. Welcome to Crazy Town where McDonald’s newest menu item is the four-pound hippo bacon burger with cheese.

Melody Travers

This is producer Melody Travers. In this season of Crazy Town, Jason, Asher, and Rob are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about the consequences of unleashing plant and animal species on unsuspecting ecosystems. The watershed moment took place in 1910. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 300 parts per million, and the global human population was 1.76 billion.

Rob Dietz

Hey Jason, Asher, it’s good to be here with you.

Asher Miller

Liar. Lying.

Rob Dietz

I am not lying.

Asher Miller

Starting on a bad note.

Rob Dietz

I love working with the two of you. If I add myself, guess how many that makes? That makes three.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, he can count! That’s good.

Rob Dietz

We’re kind of known as the three weirdo hosts of Crazy Town. You know, we’ve got our personality quirks, right?

Jason Bradford

I accept it.

Asher Miller

I can’t help it, man.

Rob Dietz

You have to.

Jason Bradford

At this point in your life.

Rob Dietz

Given the quirk-i-tude that you exhibit, you’ve got to accept it.

Jason Bradford

Thank you.

Rob Dietz

Well, this week’s story, the watershed moment in history, features three guys that make us look like as normal as can be,

Jason Bradford

I think that’s right. I’m gonna represent though, one of them, who I think is weird. And this is kind of competition. So my guy is going to try to out weird you guys. Okay, so I’m going to talk about Robert Broussard.

Asher Miller

He is a Broussard

Jason Bradford

Broussard, yeah. Get this. Guess how weird this guy has to be. He’s a U.S. House of Representatives guy.

Rob Dietz

Oh.

Asher Miller

I think the bar has been set right there.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. From Louisiana. Okay? In 1910. You think you’re wacko now? Just imagine how absolute nuts these guys are.

Asher Miller

Can I just assume he’s white?

Jason Bradford

Oh yeah. But he was also one of these kind of talker guys. Press flesh pressures. How do you say that? Flesh pressers type?

Rob Dietz

“Press the flesh” I think is what you’re trying to say.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. This is the great part of the story for me is that he is approached by a botanist. Okay? I love botanists.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. You are a botanist.

Jason Bradford

Yes, okay. These are generally brilliant, brilliant, wise people. And the botanist, there’s a problem. In recent history, like within the last 10 or 20 years, water hyacinth had been introduced from South America to the Southern U.S. and got into the swamps and canals in Louisiana and still today. And it’s beautiful plant, but it clogs things up. It grows so fast. And so the botanist couldn’t figure how to control it. But he had a great idea. Introduce hippos. Bring hippos to Louisiana. And this is so batshit crazy because hippos eat grass. They don’t even fucking eat water plants. But anyway, for some reason this botanist hadn’t checked.

Rob Dietz

Well, we just took botanists down a couple pegs there.

Jason Bradford

I know. I’m upset. So this is the problem. The botanist didn’t do a great job here.

Asher Miller

Well, maybe the botanists have learned a thing or two in the last century.

Asher Miller

Yeah, he was kind of a narrow botanist.

Rob Dietz

But still, thinking outside the box with the hippo thing. Well, so okay. How about you Asher? What is your guy?

Asher Miller

Totally. I got this. I’m gonna do laps around you, buddy. Okay. Frederick Russell Burnham. Yeah, he was this frontiers guy. You know, in kind of the waning days of the frontier. Tracker. He was a warrior. There’s some speculation that he was the inspiration for Indiana Jones. So just imagine this dude who –

Jason Bradford

Yeah I’ve just lost.

Rob Dietz

What could this guy do with a bull whip?

Asher Miller

Well, yeah, good question. Now he loved to like put himself in these really horrible conditions and like test himself so he was reported that he could go for like two and a half days or so without sleeping. And he could smell water from afar, which doesn’t make any sense to me. How do you smell water from afar? Yeah. Okay.

Jason Bradford

That’s great. Frontiersmen in the traditional American sense.

Asher Miller

So this guy, you know, he was almost like a Teddy Roosevelt kind of character because he signed himself up I guess to be in the Boer War. You know, he was fighting for the South African side and went to Africa. He was famous because he like, hid out for two days in an Aardvark hole watching the enemy, scouting them.  And then he would float down the river disguised as a dead cow. You know, to like check out what the enemy was doing.

Rob Dietz

Ah the old dead cow ruse!

Jason Bradford

And he could smell nothing but water so was able to deal with it.

Asher Miller

Apparently. Yeah, the only thing he could smell was water. But he’d also like to drink like in eat all kinds of crazy shit. He would make a cocktail out of three parts milk, one part fresh blood from a living ox, and drink that down. He would like take uncooked corn in his mouth and he would just chew on it until his jaw was sore and he couldn’t chew anymore. So yeah, I think my buddy Fred, he’s got you beat.

Jason Bradford

Probably.

Rob Dietz

Okay, well, thanks for that amateur hour. Both of you guys. Because I got Fritz Duquesne here. Okay, now Fritzy, he’s got a special place in the Weirdo Hall of Fame. Okay, so this guy also fought in the Boer War. I think you misspoke, your guy was on the British side. My guy is on the South African side. He hates British people. Just utterly hates them. Amazing that these two guys both fought in this Boer War.

Asher Miller

On opposite sides.

Rob Dietz

But here’s some fun stuff that old Duquesne got up to in his life. At one point, he decided he was going to make a movie. This is in 1914. He decided to do a travelogue on the Amazon River. But never makes –

Asher Miller

That would be really hard with that technology.

Rob Dietz

He never makes it. I think he was just collecting money to make it.

Asher Miller

Oh, nice.

Rob Dietz

And then World War I kicked off and he was gone. So that was one of his little adventures. But that’s nothing. Later he gets into insurance fraud.

Asher Miller

One leads to the other.

Rob Dietz

Of course. Well, he gets caught and he’s on trial. And towards the end of the trial he’s giving his testimony and he falls down and claims that he’s now paralyzed from the waist down.

Asher Miller

Like a sudden immaculate paralysis?

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Okay. And so they ruled that he’s got some kind of mental problem and they lock him up in Bellevue Hospital, where he fakes paralysis for seven months. And then along the way, he gets a hacksaw, cuts through the window, and escapes.

Jason Bradford

Brilliant.

Asher Miller

Damn.

Rob Dietz

Now years later, he’s caught again as the alleged leader of a 33-person Nazi spy ring.

Asher Miller

Sounds like a good guy.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. He goes to Leavenworth for 20 years. And then finally he gets out of there and dies a couple years later, but I think this guy is the head weirdo of these three.

Asher Miller

“Weird” might not be the word I would use for him.

Jason Bradford

So how do they come together?

Rob Dietz

Okay, so they come together. You talked about the botanist guy’s idea for bringing hippos. And all three of these guys, Congressman, Indiana Jones, and paralysis-faking Nazi, were all in on the hippo bill. These are the guys that were expert witnesses and going in front of Congress on that watershed date to propose that we introduce hippos into the Louisiana bayou.

Jason Bradford

To deal with water hyacinth, even though they won’t even eat that.

Rob Dietz

Well, that was one of the main points, but there was a whole other angle on this as well. Let’s just call it the meat angle. So the idea was we can solve all kinds of food shortage problems if we bring in hippos for meat.

Jason Bradford

So we almost had a McHippo industry basically in the U.S. Like in a parallel multi-universe scenario, this bill passes instead of fails, and it’s now the golden arches, and those refer to the  butts of the hippo, basically.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, imagine the size of a ham.

Asher Miller

It’d be like straight from the Flintstones.

Jason Bradford

Arby’s would have been just fantastic in this scenario.

Rob Dietz

You know when you go to like a State Fair, and you get one of those big turkey legs. Imagine you had a hippo leg.

Jason Bradford

Oh my gosh.

Rob Dietz

You’d need like seven people to carry that.

Asher Miller

I don’t think that drive up – You remember the the early days of like fast food restaurants and they’d have like the waitresses on roller skates like skating over to deliver your meal and they put it like on your door? You couldn’t really do that with a hippo leg I don’t think.

Rob Dietz

No, I don’t think so.

Jason Bradford

I’ve actually swam in like Louisiana. I’ve gotten on like on a P Row. And I’ve paddled through swamps and jumped into the canals and stuff. Ad there’s been water hyacinth around and you know you’ve got some e alligators you got to worry about a little bit. But hippos would be so terrifying. These are one of the most dangerous wild animals to humans that exist right now.

Asher Miller

They kill more people in Africa than any other animal.

Jason Bradford

Than any other animal. So like, it’s just absurd. So sure, we’re gonna have –

Asher Miller

But they taste real good.

Jason Bradford

Exactly. We’re gonna have wonderful hippo meat in this multiverse.

Asher Miller

And we’ll domesticate them. There’ll be all cuddly — we can ride them.

Jason Bradford

1000’s of people will be dying every year from hippo injuries.

Rob Dietz

I’m a fan of “The Tooth and Claw” podcast, which it’s actually by a wildlife biologist. And they actually talk about animal/human conflicts and describe the behaviors. And they did an episode on hippos. And it’s terrifying. They were like, yeah, in a crocodile attack, like 70% of people survive. In a hippo attack, negative 12% of people survive. And they’re talking about this guy who actually survived, but you could see his lung afterwards. Like these huge teeth just go right through you. Yeah, that’d be a scary thing to have hanging around New Orleans.

Asher Miller

Well, there was that educational game that they marketed when we were kids.

Rob Dietz

Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Asher Miller

Yeah, that was all to warn people about the dangers of hippos, right?

Rob Dietz

Well, the hippo is becoming a little bit of a theme. You may recall my pygmy hippo story from our episode on domination of animals, because we love hippos. So this watershed moment, again, it’s these guys getting together to say, “Hey, let’s bring hippos in.” Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt was interested. The mainstream press was all excited. Like this was almost a thing. We would have been eating chocolate covered hippo eyeballs for dessert. It would have been . . .

Asher Miller

Mmm. I wish that had transpired. It would have been so great. Maybe we should talk a little bit about why we’re picking that as this watershed moment. We’re talking here about the introduction of species, right? But before we get into maybe why we picked this specific one, I think it’s worth talking about, maybe just making clear the distinction between introducing a species versus like the broader category of invasive species. Because there are all kinds of invasive species that can happen from more natural dynamics, right?

Rob Dietz

Like under their own power, a bird might fly to a landscape that it didn’t inhabit before.

Jason Bradford

Or it rides along in the hull of a cargo ship and just happens to sort of walk off, or whatever. That’s different than what these guys are trying to do.

Asher Miller

Right. So the idea of introducing – and the other thing I should say, is that, in terms of thinking about this from a historical standpoint, is we’ve actually, you know, humans have introduced species for many, many millennia. You look at our domesticated crops, you know. And so we’ve taken those, and as we’ve migrated, we’ve brought those with us. Planted them, whatever. So that is a form of introducing new species.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I think what’s going on now, the way that we sort of think about this and why we picked this moment, is you’ve gone from this, oh, we are accidentally have these water hyacinths here, and it’s going crazy. And now we’re saying, okay, let’s go further. Let’s no longer just sort of accept this passive movement of things. Let’s figure out a way to bring something from the other part of the world, let it loose on our landscape, and reap the benefits. As if we can control that. I kind of see this as like, this is full blown, rabid mania in action. Like this idea that we can control something like this.

Asher Miller

Well, and the fact that this was a bill in the House of Congress.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it’s institutional.

Asher Miller

I think we also picked this because frickin’ hippos in the bayou. Like what? What was happening?

Asher Miller

Yeah, you’re at the highest level and top down approach saying, “We’re gonna make this policy. We’re gonna make this law to do this.”

Jason Bradford

But think about, you know, this is the early 20th century. The country has gone through this incredible phase of growth, right? The railroad systems have gotten in, cities have just boomed all over the nation and industrialization is rampant now. Right? It’s just crazy going. All these consumer products are coming out, you know? I think people were just feeling high on themselves. And when people are high and manic like this, they just do crazy things.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, also the infrastructure is set up. You know, now you’ve got all these trade networks. It’s easier for people to move species, right?

Asher Miller

I mean, if we’re thinking about this as a food source, right? What did you have? We had the rail system in the United States. I could support that. We had built a lot of industrial infrastructure to support something like this at large scale.

Jason Bradford

The packing houses in Chicago could have made hippo sausage. You got a market right there.

Rob Dietz

Each sausage is 47 pounds. This would have been a huge boon to the appliance industry. You’d have to have a refrigerator that’s the size of a garage.

Asher Miller

Houses would have to be a lot bigger. It’s true, it would have completely transformed the entire modern world. For sure. Yeah, you know, I think of this a little bit as like – What you said is this period that we’ve entered into, Maybe around the point of this bill being introduced where things are accelerating and growing at such a faster and more global clip, right. And in ecology, there’s this concept the sustainability studies concept of the great acceleration. I think that was coined by Will Steffen. And  basically, you know, we’ve talked about exponential growth curves and the dynamics of exponential growth in lots of things. That sort of tracked that. I think one of the graphs that they charted on Will Steffen’s project was looking at the number of McDonald’s, for example. And you see this hockey stick graph. And you see sort of this dynamic happening with the introduction of species, right. So if you take the Hawaiian Islands, for example, Polynesians came there millennia ago, more than that, and they brought species with them. But the rate of change, I mean, prior to human arrival, there was something like, maybe one new species was introduced every 50,000 years on those islands.

Jason Bradford

By natural – They’re a long ways out there, yeah.

Rob Dietz

That’s the species getting there somehow on its own.

Asher Miller

Exactly. Then, after the arrival of the Polynesians, which was not a couple of 1000 years ago, maybe 1500 years ago?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I think fourth century is the estimate.

Asher Miller

They estimate that it jumped from like one species every 50,000 years to three or four new species every 100 years.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, in the canoes, or whatever.

Asher Miller

So that’s talking about exponential growth, dramatic growth there. And then in modern times, there’s something like 20 new species colonizing the islands each and every year. It’s every other time a plane touches down. And in fact, they’re trying to do a lot of things to stop the introduction of species now. It’s not being done intentionally right now. It’s just so many people coming in there. You know, there’s all these things about people having shit on their shoes, and all of a sudden, you know, there’s seeds-

Rob Dietz

I usually have a pygmy hippo with me wherever I go. I just drop it off.

Asher Miller

It’s one of your assistants.

Jason Bradford

Support animals.

Asher Miller

How many seats do you have to book?

Rob Dietz

Well it’s a pygmy hippo.

Asher Miller

Okay, but still, you’d need a whole row at least, right?

Jason Bradford

So let’s back up a bit because this sounds crazy today. But if you go back to the 1800’s, early 20th century, there were these societies, like I used to be part of an academic society. You know, when I was a botanist. Like the American Journal of Systematic Botanists, or whatever. And you get their magazine-

Jason Bradford

Wild parties.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, wild parties. We have these conferences every year and we just talk about plants and just go nuts.

Rob Dietz

They probably did come in and like brag about who could grow the best marijuana.

Asher Miller

Those are the after hours.

Jason Bradford

Not that interesting, unfortunately. But anyhow, there was a society for the acclimatization of animals, birds, fishes, insects, and vegetables. So these are people basically like, let’s do it. Let’s like bring everything we can here and get them acclimatized. So they were just really wanted to spread exotic species around the world and sort of the poster child is the European Starling.

Rob Dietz

At least here in North America.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, here is in North America. Gosh, that was brought in I guess because some guy was a fond of Shakespeare is the lore. And so it’s nuts. They’re brought in for all kinds of reasons.

Asher Miller

That was his legitimate reason, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, his issue was  any bird that was mentioned by Shakespeare he thought should be populating our landscape. So yeah, he might be in there with our three weirdos as well.

Asher Miller

What you don’t understand is Shakespeare is originally from North America, right? He was writing about his childhood.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. What’s the guy’s name? Eugene Schieffelin.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. I think he’s like the Ringo Starr. He joins a band of our three other weirdos and he’s right in there with him. The stats on the starlings are frickin’ incredible. He started with like, I think he released 60 birds one year. And the next year he released another 40. And then within 50 years, you had starlings in every state and the population grew from 100 birds to more than 200 million in North America.

Jason Bradford

I have to say, I do like watching – what do they call those? Murmurations. Where the flocks move, and they make these crazy patterns.

Rob Dietz

And it’s like one of the most common birds you see now. So we think of them like, Oh, look at those flocks that are moving, and they’re wonderful. There’s these huge groups and people stare at them. And they are one of the most destructive birds in in North America. But I mean, it’s weird. It’s getting into agricultural crops and displacing a lot of native birds. And their population is gigantic.

Jason Bradford

It’s stunning. I guess we lost the passenger pigeon. We got the starling

Asher Miller

I’m sure Shakespeare would be very proud. Lasting legacy.

Rob Dietz

So let’s talk for a minute about why people do that. Like why would somebody have been in the acclimatization society? Why this is happening. And there’s this guy, John Long, who wrote a really good book on introduced mammals of the world. And he lists these reasons why we have people trying to introduce species all over the world. And the first one is just for aesthetic reasons. That’s like the starling. You know, like, Oh, I like Shakespeare, I wanted the things he talked about around. A second reason would be like for commercial enterprises. And you could think of that, like, they introduce mink into Russia so that you could capture them and get fur coats off of it. There’s the idea of controlling pests. Like you introduce kind of like what they were hoping to do with the hippo. But there’s a lot of other examples where they actually did it.

Jason Bradford

Cane toads.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Mongoose were released so they could eat rabbits in New Zealand and just like wrecked the bird population there. And then there’s accidents, escapes, and pet keeping. So we gotta bring this back full circle to the hippos. You know, Pablo Escobar?

Jason Bradford

Yes. Wonderful. One of my favorite drug kingpins.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I don’t know how many drug kingpins you can name, but…

Jason Bradford

Well it was in the 80’s. So it’s like, you know, I grew up with the guy.

Rob Dietz

Well, so like any good despot, he had a menagerie of animals on his private island, or wherever it was. I guess it wasn’t an island.

Asher Miller

He just couldn’t go spend his money anywhere, right? So you had to bring his money to him.

Rob Dietz

Right. So he had imported four hippos from a zoo and added it to his private collection of exotic animals. Asher, when he got killed in ’93 what happened?

Asher Miller

Well, so  he had them in his pond, right, on his ranch. And some of, you know, he had a lot of animals, right. Most of them went to zoos, but the hippos were just left there.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, what are you gonna go in and, “Here hippo hippo hippo.”

Asher Miller

You need a really big leash.

Rob Dietz

I can imagine they had the sting operation to get Escobar and then they’re like, “Okay, we gotta get these llamas out of here. Uh, you get the hippos out.” And he just leaves, right.

Asher Miller

So, yeah, just a dozen years later or so I think there were 16 hippos, right. So this is what animals do.

Rob Dietz

Spontaneous generation.

Asher Miller

That’s what it was. You just add some drops of water on top of them.

Jason Bradford

The birds, the bees, and the hippos.

Rob Dietz

So that’s not so bad. 16. 16 Hippo hams and you’re done.

Asher Miller

But they’re spreading, right? So they’re spotting the hippos now on the Magdalena River. And there’s three individuals seen on the Corona River. The population in the basin there is estimated to be growing something like seven or eight percent a year, which means, I don’t know, by 2050, they can have as many as 800.

Rob Dietz

That’s a 10-year doubling time in population.

Jason Bradford

What’s exciting to me is that it didn’t happen in North America, but there’s a chance it’s going to happen in Colombia. So that’s kind of cool.

Asher Miller

With climate changes, maybe eventually they’ll be moving.

Jason Bradford

If they can swim across the Panama Canal, I don’t see why they couldn’t –

Rob Dietz

You don’t have swim when you get one of those cargo ships stuck in there. They just walk across.

Asher Miller

Like a bridge.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, yeah, we could we could see them in the Rio Grande in like 80 years or something.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that’s amazing.

Asher Miller

There won’t be a Rio Grande . . . Yeah, sorry.

Rob Dietz

There’s one other reason why people try to introduce the species, especially mammals, and that’s for food, hunting and sport. Which we talked about food some I’m with the hippo, but I gotta tell you guys a quick little story. I used to live in New Mexico. And I had this good friend of mine, Patrick, maybe you’re listening out there, Patrick. Patrick’s a conservationist, a hunter. He and I were both working at the Fish and Wildlife Service at the time. And he asked me if I wanted to go hunting with him. And I’d never been hunting. I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll give that a try.” So you know, we had all the right permits and stuff and he takes me out hunting. We’re going for elk. Never shot anything, but had a great time, just kind of stalking around the mountains and trying to track them. And we finished with our two-three day hunt. We load up the truck, we’re headed home to Albuquerque, coming down out of the mountains, and he tells me, “Hey, Rob, I gotta make a quick stop along the way.” I’m like, “Okay.” He says, “I actually killed something a couple of weeks ago, and I sent it to the taxidermist.” And Patrick’s not the kind of guy that has, like, you know, squirrel heads on his wall or anything like that, but he’s like, “I feel kind of like a dummy, but I just felt like I had to get this thing stuffed.” I’m like, “Okay, well, what is it?” And he said, “Oh, it’s an oryx.” I’m like, “What the hell is that?” And he said, “Oh, it’s this African antelope that they release down around White Sands National Monument, which is now a national park. And yeah, it’s this crazy looking awesome beauty animal. It’s got like a black face paint that kind of looks like it’s on a white background, or like a member of the rock band KISS. And it’s these really cool super long horns coming off. And yeah, you’ve gotta have a pretty high ceiling if you’re gonna mount one of these suckers

Jason Bradford

It’s like an antelope but bred with KISS.

Rob Dietz

Exactly. Yeah, yeah, we don’t want to question what Gene Simmons does in his off hours, but ya know, I was just amazed. So this species, they brought it in specifically as a species to hunt and to have around for food. And I actually later even tasted some because Patrick had the meat from that.

Asher Miller

Did it taste like hippo?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it was a lot like hippo. Yeah, no, it was really good. But it just kind of blew me away. Here’s this African species that I had no idea was here. And now even a year or so later, I was visiting one of the biologists at a National Wildlife Refuge down around southern New Mexico. And we came across a kill where a mountain lion had taken apart an oryx so you could see the bones and the fur and all that. But yeah, they’re around and now just part of the ecosystem.

Asher Miller

They’re not small.

Rob Dietz

No, no. It’s a big animal.

Asher Miller

Yeah, props to the to the mountain lion.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I know, it probably has like about a 50% chance of being impaled every time it attacks one of those.

Asher Miller

So I think it’s worth just – and we’ve touched on this a little bit as we’re talking about the fact that this is a really a global phenomenon. You know, we’re talking about context here in the United States. But this has been happening all over the world, including in places that have been colonized by Westerners, Europeans, you know, relatively recently. And I think Australia tends to be sort of the poster case for this, right? People talk a lot about the issues that they’ve had with the introduction of rabbits, you know. And when you bring species into a new ecosystem they can –

Rob Dietz

Multiply like rabbits.

Asher Miller

Exactly. Or they could find a niche and just go like nuts. It’s interesting to just think about, like, all the different kinds of species have been introduced just into Australia, you know. You got your horses, cane toads, right? They brought those in, actually, because they were trying to deal with the cane beetle that was killing sugarcane that they’re trying to grow there. So they brought the cane toad in and that’s grown, sort of out of control. My favorite, I guess, is the camel, right? So if you ever want to stump anybody, you ask them, you know, what country has the largest population of camels in the world? And how many  feral camels would you guess were in Australia until just recently? The last decade or so.

Rob Dietz

If I’m being real, I would have never. I would have thought, you know, if you had said, where are camels in Australia? I’d say the zoo.

Asher Miller

Right, right. There are a million feral camels roaming around Australia. Until you know, recently they’ve been doing this and they’ve done this with all of these species trying to figure out ways of controlling the population. So they’ve done a lot of things to try to reduce the population. They’re down to something like 300,000 now. Which is inconceivable.

Rob Dietz

Maybe we should think about introducing hippos to handle the camel population.

Asher Miller

I’m sure hippos would do great in Central Australia.

Rob Dietz

You’re sure, Jason? They don’t eat camels and grass.

Jason Bradford

Let’s just try it.

Asher Miller

Why not?

Rob Dietz

You’ve got to try things. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Yeah, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Come on, give me some more cliches.

Jason Bradford

I just want to take a second. So what we’re dealing with, the concept is often called ecological release. Where you have basically something that’s moved out of where it evolved. And when things evolve in a particular region, there’s all this coevolution with parasites and viruses and other things that will might tamp down its its ability to grow. And so ecological release releases a sense that, oh my gosh, I’m in a climate that is similar to where I evolved, but there’s no more diseases that will make me sick. And so that’s often why these things just take off and they can outcompete the natives. It’s just, nothing is keeping them in check.

Rob Dietz

Well and of course, nowadays, we want to steward a lot of them, right? In terms of –

Asher Miller

A lot of what?

Rob Dietz

Well, a lot of exotic species, maybe the camels, but I was looking at some of the economic stats and it’s something like 85% of industrial forestry plantations are established with species from just three genuses. Or genera if you want to speak correctly.

Asher Miller

I’m a genius. What are you talking about?

Jason Bradford

Pines, teaks, and eucalyptus.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And then I was looking at the nation of New Zealand where more than 95% of its export earnings are from introduced species. Probably cow and sheep.

Jason Bradford

Sheep and cattle. Yeah.

Asher Miller

Yeah. One of the things that is a consequence of all this that’s worth mentioning is just the lack of diversity. And what does that mean? You know, in terms of the risks associated with that. We have that with bananas.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So for agriculture, it’s true. Like almost all agricultural species you could think of as these introduced species, right. And so, boy, concentration of the calorie foods we grow. It’s wheat. It’s maize or corn. What we call it maize or corn. Rice, potatoes, barley, cassava, soybeans, sugar cane, oat. Those dominate. Those nine crops are 70% of the world’s food. And each is cultivated way beyond its natural range.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. If you ever like, go on Google Earth, or Google Maps in the Midwest and just look at the dominance that soybeans and corn have over that landscape?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. I grow vegetables where I am. Most of what I grow is vegetables, other things, too. And so it’s fascinating to me to think about. I try to make what I grow really diverse because it’s interesting. So this diversity is interesting. We’ve taken things from around the world and combined them. And so in a sense, we have more diverse diets, maybe in some ways than we would have otherwise. So like, just from Africa, this last year, I grew cow peas, sorghum, okra, roselle and watermelon. And of course, I grew stuff from the Americas, stuff from Europe and Asia.

Rob Dietz

And in the creek alongside the barn here.

Asher Miller

So you’re introducing – You’re the bad guy here. You’re introducing all kinds of species.

Rob Dietz

Well, he did he put a couple hippos in the creek out here.

Jason Bradford

Don’t tell the Watershed Council.

Asher Miller

I’m not going swimming in the creek anymore. Scary.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. But yeah, so that we’ve spread our crops all over the place.

Asher Miller

Can we just name the thing that probably a lot of our listeners are like, “Excuse me, there’s an invasive species you haven’t talked about.” And that is us humans. I mean, I think it was John Long, the guy that wrote the book that you referenced earlier, Rob. He said, “No mammal species has extended its range over such a large area of the world as humans, and neither has any other species had such an impact on changing habitat quality, quantity and diversity for so many other species.” Obviously true.

Rob Dietz

Yep. Right on.

Jason Bradford

I mean, in modern history, of course, there was, you know, the species that first were able to make oxygen. And that transformed the world. But yeah, I think, you know, if you’re talking the last 10s of millions of years.

Asher Miller

But look at our ability to go into all kinds of ecosystems, different climates, and we’re amazingly capable.

Jason Bradford

Now we’re talking about deep ocean mining.

Asher Miller

We’re talking about going into fucking space. Right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, getting meddlers, though. I mean, I remember as a little kid, we would go fish in this lake, and we would catch a little bluegill, or a crappie, and then we would carry it away from the lake and stick it in another body of water. I have no idea why we would do that. What were we doing? Why are we doing that?

Asher Miller

Because you’re curious.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. We just always think that we can make things better somehow. It’s this sort of hubris. But you know, it ends up biting us in the hippo butt I think a lot of the time, right? These invasions have all these economic costs. Of course, there’s ecological ravaging, but we want to put dollar signs on them. So it’s easier to get stats on the dollar sign. It’s all about the money. So just for like the starling example, again. Like I mentioned, they ravage crops. Because there’s these huge flocks, and they come in, and they can just wipe out a crop. So there was a review by George Lynch, and it estimated that starlings cause $800 million dollars in agricultural damage annually in North America. They also run into airplanes and stuff. So it’s rough.

Asher Miller

$800 million dollars.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. I mean, there’s massive programs in every part of the world, you know, that calculate like the cost that zebra mussels have, or whatever, clogging up water. Or how much you know, kudzu costs. Just everywhere you go, there’s some terrible thing that is wreaking some sort of havoc that we now put monetary damage on. It’s a big deal.

Asher Miller

And we should just distinguish here, we’re just talking about species that we’ve introduced for other reasons. We’re not talking about our domesticated protein animals or whatever, right? Which do unbelievable damage.

Jason Bradford

Correct. These are the unwanted. These are the things we consider pets.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, I want to – even though it is all about the money, I want to spend a couple of seconds talking about the environmental damage. And you know, these animal invaders, they cause direct extinctions by preying upon native species. It’s really sad in New Zealand what’s happened. They had just this awesome bird diversity, you know. Things like ground parrots, kakapo, and yeah . . . They’re just getting hammered by rats and mongeese eating the eggs before they can even hatch. You know, you also have competition for grazing resources and then some of these species really alter habitat. Like you think about when a plant invades an ecosystem, the water hyacinth is a good example. It takes that over. And sometimes they can change the fire regime, the nutrient regime. The hydrology, energy budgets, all that.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, there’s all this trickle down. The cascading effects. My wife and I one time climb to the highest peak in in Tahiti on one of these Polynesian islands, and we’re camping out there. And at night, all these rats came out. And it was just like, she couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t sleep. Thanks, Polynesians. And so all these birds that go extinct all over. It’s crazy.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And then we often forget about the diseases that come along. Like chestnut blight is the one that always kind of strikes in my heart.

Jason Bradford

Oh my gosh.

Rob Dietz

Just wiping out this majestic tree all over North America.

Asher Miller

And there’s that hippo rash. It only affects left handed people.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. But let’s bring it back into the Crazy Town connection here. These nutty people, the three guys we talked about. They all had the best of intentions. I don’t know, maybe not that guy –

Rob Dietz

I don’t know about the Nazi paralysis guy and his intentions.

Jason Bradford

Okay. But you know, my guy, my Louisiana politician. He thought he was introducing a bill that was going to help his constituents eat more hippo meat, and take care of a terrible problem in the shipping industry. This is the thing it’s like, we do batshit crazy stuff with good intentions because we’re just idiotic and manic and think we have so much control and power. But then we let the frickin’ genie out of the bottle and go, “Oh, crap.” But how many times do we look back and say, how could we have done that? We never asked today like, what the hell are we doing? You know?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s almost like we feel like we’ve solved ourselves when we’re kind of still on it. It’s not that we have a acclimatization society anymore. But we still have massive shipping of exotic species and global trade.

Asher Miller

It’s a huge business.

Rob Dietz

Introductions happen all the time. I mean, the pythons in southern Florida, or now probably everywhere in Florida. But that was not a acclimatization society thing in 1898 That’s pretty recent.

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

Asher Miller

But people were thinking about this and aware of it to some degree even way back when. Around the time of this hippo bill. Let me read you a quote: “We ourselves are the only reasons-” This is from about over 100 years ago, right? “We ourselves are the only reason why none of this precious game – ” We’re talking about game in the wild. In the west.  ” – can ever live in our wild plain. So intent are we on destruction that we become the wonder of the world. We have dynamited our fish, killed all our buffalo, carried off even his bones on trainloads, and came back with herds of cattle. Tramped out and ate all the finest natural grass ever known. I’ve seen forest fires 40 miles wide burning in the Sierras to make early grass for herds of sheep. If it were known that a herd of eland were on the Rio Grande, 1000 guns would be after them and their hide sold to the nearest tannery.”

Rob Dietz

What is that? John Muir? Aldo Leopold?

Asher Miller

That’s my buddy Burnham. Which is what’s so crazy about this. On the one hand, he sees that. And then on the other hand, he’s like, well, solution, of course. Let’s introduce hippos. We can hunt those guys.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So that’s like awareness and then naked opportunism.

Asher Miller

Doesn’t this remind you? We talked about Jeff Bezos, remember? I get so riled up every time I talk about this presentation that Bezos gave when he was launching his space penis company.

Asher Miller

Blue Origin.

Asher Miller

You know, he’s just talking about all these issues that we’re facing, stuff that would have come out of the mouth of anyone at PCI. Energy constraints and limits of efficiency and all this stuff, and exponential growth, and he’s like, “Yeah, we only have two choices. The path we’re on, we’re just gonna have to ration.” And then he’s like, “No fuck that. We’re going to space.”

Jason Bradford

He even uses the R word. I’m just like, my jaw dropped.

Asher Miller

So it’s the same thing. This is what you’re talking about. It’s this hubris.

Rob Dietz

I hope we don’t accidentally reinvigorate the hippos in the bayou idea, and Bezos makes that part of his space penis platform.

Asher Miller

Hippos in space.

Jason Bradford

There will probably be one of his like orbiting colonies. He probably is going to have a hippo one. Yeah, we got to recreate the African land.

Asher Miller

They’re heavy to transport. That’s the only downside. Maybe the pygmy ones.

Jason Bradford

Let’s get the pygmy ones up there. Yeah, yeah. But you know, there’s a lot going on now where we are still trying to fix things. And some of the fixing is technofix stuff. And some of the fixing is really ecologically minded. Like, nowadays, it’s much harder to pass a bill to introduce hippos, right? So we do have ecological thinking going on and how we try to manage introductions of species.

Asher Miller

Yeah, speaking of Crazy Town related to this stuff, I think we have to talk a little bit about how crazy-making it is to be aware of the stuff that we’re talking about here, right? Of the dangers, the risks, of introducing species. When we’re in a situation now because of climate change. . . You know, my family has been very involved over the years in trying to plant native species. We’re living in California. Especially because of the drought conditions we only planted native species. We’re in a situation now where because the climate is changing so rapidly, that what once had been the right habitat for species is no longer the right habitat. And we’re just dealing with that here. We have Douglas Fir on our property. And there’s a group of three of them that are diseased and have to be cut down. And they’re sort of on the sort of this corner edge of our lawn that actually gets a little bit of sun.

Jason Bradford

And they’re huge.

Asher Miller

So we were talking about well, what do we plant there instead? You know, and we were talking to an arborist. . .

Jason Bradford

Eucalyptus.

Rob Dietz

Bring in some koalas to munch on the leaves.

Asher Miller

And he was saying, “Well, honestly, you should think about getting White Oaks which are not indigenous. They’re not they’re from California essentially.

Jason Bradford

Right. There’s an Oregon white oak behind you right now, but he must have been talking about something else.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And basically saying, look, the climate is changing, you need to bring in species that are going to be able to withstand drier conditions.

Rob Dietz

You should plant a coral reef there. I mean, those are, they’re hurting.

Asher Miller

Makes a lot of sense to plant it in a landlocked little residential neighborhood.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Gotta think ecologically here.

Jason Bradford

Wow, that sounds like somebody who’s thinking about how to fix some of these problems, which is going to take us directly into our do the opposite segment.

Jason Bradford

Well, you know, what’s interesting to me is I’m affiliated with other institutions and they are trying to put ecosystems back together, okay, that are fragmented. Like taking a wheat field, there’s one actually, a mile and a half from here, they’ve done an amazing job at Herbert farm, for example. Turning it into a restoration site with native prairie again. And what’s fascinating, though, is they’re thinking about this in the context of climate change and saying to themselves, well, how do we do this and allow for the diversity of plant communities to change and shift what is necessary? So not only are ecologists dealing with trying to recreate and restore habitats that are lost, they’re also struggling with, how do you also put something back that will be able to respond to changing environmental conditions? And they’re at least aware of the problem and debating it openly on what are the best strategies.

Jason Bradford

Okay. Let’s go there.

Rob Dietz

Okay, Jason and Asher, I’ve got another awesome review to share from one of our listeners here in Crazy Town.

Asher Miller

My bruised ego lives for this moment.

Jason Bradford

A little pick-me-up too. It’s like fan mail.

Rob Dietz

This one comes to us from irritating1000. Okay? “Smart, sarcastic, fun. Want to laugh and cry at the same time. Have learned a lot and even better, have been moved to get off my butt and get actively involved.”

Asher Miller

Nice, but actively involved by irritating people?

Rob Dietz

Well, you know, I don’t know what kind of  –

Asher Miller

Everyone plays their part.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that’s right. Maybe we need some irritants in the system out there. Seriously, thank you for that very kind review. It really does make us feel good. And we hope it influences everyone else out there to go and rate and review us and maybe we’ll get to yours on the air

George  Costanza

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Rob Dietz

So in terms of doing the opposite, we’ve had all these introduced species that, like you said earlier, Jason, we kind of let the genie out of the bottle. You can’t just stuff it back in. So what is it that we are going to do? On the one hand, I would just echo something you were talking about earlier, Jason that ecologically, we’ve gotten a little bit smarter. Not saying we’re wise yet, but you can’t just pass a hippo bill these days. You actually have programs and I was involved in this with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and in the U.S. Geological Survey. Trying to target invasive species as a problem. And it’s the exact opposite of an acclimatization society.

Asher Miller

I mean, we were just talking about that. This stuff exists. There are lots of resources for people in terms of thinking about planting, with the caveats that we just talked about in terms of climate changes, planting native species and programs, even grassroots programs are great ones around here that some of the environmental groups do. I’m sure most communities where everyone’s listening, are a lot of ways for people to actually get involved. And removing invasive species from a local habitat

Jason Bradford

And nurseries, nowadays. I can go to a local nursery and usually find a section that has native plants. And that was not true, like, you know, 15 years ago, very rare. So that’s pretty cool. But you know, we talked about how it was the globalization of trade and shipping stuff all over the world, really was part of the acceleration that happened. And so one of the ways that we can also reduce the likelihood of new invasive species coming in is support local economic production, reduce the amount of stuff we just ship around all over the place.

Rob Dietz

Of course, you have to convince everyone you know to do the same as well . And then once we’ve relocalized, we’re golden.

Asher Miller

Just to go back to the example of my little situation in California – When we moved into this house, we ripped out the lawn that was in the front, we planted . . . And I shouldn’t say we, my wife. She doesn’t listen to this so I don’t have to worry too much, but she’s the one who did –

Rob Dietz

She hears your voice enough.

Asher Miller

Right. But you know, she really did it. I was just some labor on occasion. But, you know, planting native plants.

Asher Miller

And growing a garden, a food garden too

Asher Miller

It was really remarkable to see, without us ever really talking about it, proselytizing, any of that stuff, that one by one neighbors on our block all started ripping out their lawns. And by the time we left the neighborhood, I would say 70% of them were no longer – And the drought helped, obviously, to motivate people to get rid of their grass. But it was the modeling of it that I think helped people kind of adopt those practices and imagine doing something differently.

Rob Dietz

And one, Jason, you and I were up on Mount Tabor a week or so ago. Yeah, that’s a cool extinct volcano in Portland that’s been turned into a park. And we were both just noticing how compared to a lot of sort of urban natural areas that we’ve been to, there weren’t that many, what would you call, outbreaks of invasive species?

Jason Bradford

Right, it wasn’t too bad. I was like, “Wow, this actually looks like a forest.”

Rob Dietz

And that’s definitely due to volunteers going in and ripping that stuff out on a regular basis. I think it’s coordinated pretty well there. So yeah, you can join those kinds of things and do that. But I think there’s a bigger thing and that’s a change of attitude. It’s that idea that instead of, we dominate nature, we control it. Like we’re gonna put animals on the landscape like you would arrange the chess pieces on a chessboard. We can’t be thinking like that. We have to think like we’re part of this. These are things that we live with, not things that we control and dominate.

Asher Miller

And the more we see that we live in systems that have their own dynamics, right? I mean these invasive species should have taught us all that there’s this cascading effect that can happen when you make one change in a system it can have this this rippling effect. So the the idea that we could sort of like, “Oh, we’ll just do this one little intervention, you know, and we can sort of isolate that. It’s very much a sort of manufacturing linear kind of thinking that might work from an industrial mindset. We’re gonna build this product, and we’re putting in this input, and it’s gonna have that output, blah, blah, blah. We’re talking about systems, living systems. There’s these interactions that we can’t necessarily understand. So yeah, I think getting rid of that hubris, that pretense that we can control. Even though even indigenous communities have practiced some measure of control over nature, we’re not talking about completely divorcing ourselves from our relationship with nature, but it is a relationship.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And I think nowadays botanists, if they were advising Congress, they would know that hippos don’t eat water hyacinth. I think nowadays we’ve advanced to that point and that makes me happy because now we don’t have to be upset by that botanist character.

Rob Dietz

Look, I don’t care what hippos eat. All I know is I want to eat some hippo. So what do you say we go out, maybe down to-

Jason Bradford

Pablo Escobar’s.

Rob Dietz

Escobar’s place. And yeah, we get us some hippo sushi going.

Asher Miller

You go first. Okay. I’ll just be standing by.

Rob Dietz

All right. I’ll get an eyeball for you. We want to give a special thanks to Elana Zuber, our star researcher of the watershed moments through history. Without her work, there’s no way we could have covered such sweeping topics this season.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and we also want to thank our other outstanding volunteers. Anya Steuer provides original artwork for us, and Taylor Antal prepares the transcripts for each episode.

Jason Bradford

And a big, big thank you to our producer Melody Travers who helps us bozos stay professional.

Rob Dietz

And finally, thanks to you, our listeners. If you want to help others find their way to Crazy Town, please drop us a five star rating and hit that share button when you hear an episode you like.

Jason Bradford

Folks, we know that governments and underfunded nonprofits are just not coping with the invasive species crisis. I mean, just the other day I was able to purchase 82 King Cobras and release them into the fields near my home. But instead of continuing to contribute to the problem, why not become a citizen willing to fight for the sanctity of your homeland. Inspired by the classic ’80s movie, “Red Dawn,” the Wolverine corpse is an association of militant freedom from invasive species fighters, and it is calling on you to join its ranks. How? Well, for only $19.95 you can get access to their extensive library of counter insurgency techniques in the form of hundreds of trifold pamphlets and VHS tapes. Step by step guidance is provided to turn you into a badass weed puller, invasive toad squisher, and starling nest spotter you were meant to be. Wolverine Corps: don’t just sit on your ass. Be a badass.