(By Daniel Lee)
Historically, wolves had the largest natural distribution of any non-human mammalspecies. However, it cannot lay claim to this record as much of their former range has beenlost due to increasing pressure from humankind.
The British Isles, like Japan, was once home to wolves. Whereas the last wolf in Japan was killed in the early 20th century, in Ireland and Scotland it was last hunted to extinction in the 17th to 18th century. In Wales and England, wolves were deemed extinct by the 13th and 16th century respectively.
Wolves were severely persecuted in the British Isles due to a few reasons. Following Abrahamic religious traditions, the medieval mind took literally the idea that man had dominion over nature which can be exploited as a resource for humankind. Animals could thus be used for food, labour or sport. Unfortunately, among all other animals the
wolf has often been portrayed negatively. Wolves were depicted as monstrous rapacious beasts closely associated with witchcraft and the devil and a serious threat to livestock and livelihoods. Hence, they were considered evil, useless, and extremely dangerous and therefore ought to be exterminated for the betterment of all.
However, spurred by the success of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park, like Japan, the idea that wolves may once again roam the land in the United Kingdom has gained a foothold. Though still haunted by negative stereotypes, the wolf in recent years has been cast in a more positive light as more has been learnt about them.
The awareness of their plight from centuries of discrimination and their symbolic representation of the wild has captured the empathy and imagination of many. In addition, scientific understanding has brought an increasing awareness of the marvels of their social structure, the very low risk wolves’ presents to people and even to most livestock, the extent of its role in shaping ecosystems, allowing other species to flourish by regulating herbivore populations – has changed or altered attitudes and perceptions to this once near-universally maligned species.
In the United Kingdom, this ‘rewilding’ effort is in essence a broader ecological restoration project that considers the potential of other formerly native species of British flora and fauna for reintroduction which is strongly supported by the EU convention. As such, the reintroduction of large mammalian species native to the isles such as the elk, lynx, wolves and bear are being discussed.
But as expected, the topic of wolf reintroduction never fails to stir up deep rooted emotions amongst those who would be directly involved and affected by their reintroduction.