v. To return an area to a more natural or wild state; to return a captive animal to its natural habitat.
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Early this month, two South China tiger cubs, bred in captivity at Suzhou Zoo, are due to arrive in a park in South Africa, where, it is hoped, they will learn to hunt and survive in the wild. Over the next four years, they will be followed by another three to eight cubs. Then, in about five years, cubs that have been successfully "rewilded" will be reintroduced to China as young adults, where they will go to live in an as yet unidentified pilot reserve.
—Kenneth Howe, “Chinese Activist Seeks to Save The Tiger, And Naturalists Roar,” The Wall Street Journal, September 03, 2003
As much as the wildlife, it's the sense of boundless space — of unexplored territory — that Myers hopes will enrapture visitors when the 150-square-mile preserve opens its gates to the public sometime next year.

By then, Myers hopes that the process he calls "rewilding" will be far enough along to create an impression of wilderness barely 50 miles north of the nation's second-largest city. …

Rewilding has meant closing down a rock quarry; stopping progress on a hazardous waste dump; ridding the property of lethal sodium cyanide "coyote getters"; cleaning up petroleum waste pits where owls and hawks sometimes drowned; and dismantling a poacher's camp.

It also required erecting steel barriers across canyon walls to stop trespassing all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles, which Clendenen blames for igniting at least one brush fire.
—Frank Clifford, “Restoring the Wilderness of 100 Years Ago,” Los Angeles Times, April 06, 2003
1990 (earliest)
[The Earth First!] forebears are the earnest hippies who, 20 years ago, emerged from the first celebration of Earth Day with plans to do some recycling, switch to non-phosphate detergent and donate $ 25 a year to the Sierra Club. Today they are eco-guerrillas, radical environmentalists who have turned to outrageous — and sometimes illegal — tactics in their war against "greedheads" and "eco-thugs." Militants vow not just to end pollution but to take back and "rewild" one third of the United States.
—Jennifer Foote, “Trying to Take Back the Planet,” Newsweek, February 05, 1990
It seems likely that this verb (at least in the sense of returning an area to a more natural or wild state) was coined by the radical environmental group Earth First! back in the late 1980s. That was when they began the Wildlands Project — an ambitious and ongoing plan to join America's wild places — with the slogan "Reconnect Restore Rewild."
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