Throwing wildcats to the wolves!

The zoologist George Monbiot is an advocate of ‘rewilding’ the UK particularly in Scotland. He and fellow eco-warriers claim that the lynx and the wolf should be brought home to the UK as lost British native species. Hard evidence of lynx’ presence in the UK is almost non existent however. The introduction of lynx to Scotland would almost certainly spell the end for the already threatened Scottish wildcat (separate blog to follow) as the two species do not co-exist as proved in mainland Europe. The wolf was indeed native to the British Isles but at a time when it was far more biodiverse, more extensively wooded and more thinly populated than today.  Geological estimates vary, but it is thought the wolf’s demise in the UK was was around 1760.

Needless to say, farmers, walkers and other groups are opposed on safety grounds. Furthermore, the argument that rewilding would boost tourism is somewhat misplaced as both animals are shy and retiring. Surely better to concentrate on the current threatened wildlife such as the harvest mouse, hazel dormouse or the Dartford warbler; perhaps they don’t engender the same romance!

In deepest Devon at the Wildwood Escot Estate live a pack of six wolves; four intact males and two neutered females. They live in perfect harmony without any animosity, aggression or an apparent alpha. They recently arrived from a zoo in Denmark via Sweden and are the subject of collaborative observation.

In the 1950s/60s, L David Mech Phd, conducted studies on a pack of captive wolves in Ellesmere Island, in modern day Nunavut (previously part of the Northwest Territories), Canada. This concentrated primarily on observing the interactions of pack members with each other and with pups around a den. He observed a hierarchy relying on domination and the aggression of an alpha, usually a male. The conclusion was that ALL wolves, and indeed dogs, acted this way. What he failed to allow for was that the pack consisted of unrelated animals living in a false environment. This has resulted in a myth that persists today with some dog trainers emulating this ‘pack theory’, using dominance to obtain results.

So how do the Escot wolves live in peace? One theory is that they do not have to compete for resources or females and all are still young. In time, of course, this may change, so we watch with a great deal of interest and anticipation! (See also separate blog here).

No discussion about wolves would be complete without a mention of Wolf Watch UK. This was established at a centre in Shropshire in 1993 by the founder Tony Haighway. His initial involvement with wolf conservation started with the rescue of a pair of wolves from a closing zoo in Warwickshire. From these small beginnings, Wolf Watch UK has gone on to provide sanctuary for over thirty displaced wolves to date. “They normally arrive in the centre as a consequence of dominance fights, zoo closures or excess breeding. Without our help many of these magnificent animals would have probably been euthanised” Tony states in a recent interview.

The Wolf Watch Centre is located in approximately one hundred acres of remote wooded valley in Shropshire and is staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers. Wolf Watch UK is a private membership wolf conservation group. Access to the project is strictly via the Adopt-a-Wolf membership scheme or approved wolf conservation groups or similar, with permission to bring visiting parties during pre-arranged days.

Tony goes on to say: “We are somewhat unique in our ethos, as it is based entirely around the welfare of the animals in our care and to provide them with sanctuary, we refuse to exploit them for monetary gain. We do not operate along the conventional lines of being a public paying zoo style attraction, but rely solely on membership subscriptions, donations and fund raising from open days, our adopt-a-wolf scheme, photography days, guided tours and associated events”.

The ‘Shropshire Star’ recently reported that the go ahead has been given for the expansion of the centre to include holiday lets and an educational facility. Design consultants have been employed to ensure the building work is in sympathy with the environment. The plans were universally supported by locals and groups including Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire and Ludlow College and the local parish council.

Virginia McKenna OBE, founder trustee of The Born Free Foundation, has visited the sanctuary on a number of occasions and in a letter to Shropshire Council the actress said: “I have always left uplifted and encouraged to see such genuine understanding of the individual characters and needs of the wolves. It is, I believe, an ideal environment to bring people who wish to understand more about these animals”.

Picture shows a pair of wolves at the Wolf Conservation Trust, Beenham, near Reading. Visitors can enjoy guided tours, walks, night howling sessions and photographic days.

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Photograph by Richard Jarrold

One thought on “Throwing wildcats to the wolves!

  1. This article is very interesting, Richard! That sanctuary sounds like a wonderful place for those wolves! So nice to hear stories about humans doing the right thing for animals. Thank you for this post!

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