Should we reintroduce the native grey wolf (Canis lupus) to Britain? The tourists would love to see wolves on our mountains, to hear wolves howling, and the wolves would eat excess deer.
Some people in Britain shoot deer. On a Scottish island, sheep starve. These ungulates are, or could be, prey species for wolves but wolves have been hunted to extinction here. There’s thoughtful disussion about reintroducing wolves and other large predators in this article. If you want to read about controlling deer, scroll to page 12.
In North America, opinions are strong about the wolf. Some say that wolves can reach ‘natural balance’ with ungulates, aided by ‘built-in mechanisms [meaning what?] that cause [ungulates’] reproduction rate to slow down’ and by ungulate starvation. Some are offended by the hunting of wolves. There’s evidence that wolf reintroducion to Yellowstone National Park was a success.
But North America is a continent. Here, we’re on islands. Our human populations are dense in places. People live and farm ungulates (sheep, cattle, deer, pigs, horses, donkeys) even in the Scottish Highlands. Remote by our standards.
I haven’t seen any suggestion of introducing wolves to the islands of St Kilda, home to the Soay sheep or Ulva, the place the Vikings named ‘wolf island’. Red deer (Cervus elaphus) and feral goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) live on the ironically named Ulva. Tasty food, if you’re a wolf, but nobody’s suggesting wolf reintroduction there. On the other hand wolf reintroduction is discussed for the National Nature Reserve of Rhum on page 13 of this article.
Scientists at Edinburgh University monitor Soay sheep on St Kilda and red deer on Rhum. So if large carnivores were reintroduced to Rhum, they’d be under supervision. It might be possible to manage a wolf reintroduction on Rhum. It shouldn’t be left for wolves to reach ‘natural balance’ with ungulates. That might not work, as it didn’t work after wolves were reintroduced to Coronation Island, Alaska in 1960. The reintroduced wolves ate so many deer that the wolves died out.
So if wolves were reintroduced to Britain, especially to our small islands, people would need to manage the ecosystems. Perhaps to manage them with guns. That’s a nasty thought if you believe it’s always wrong to hunt beautiful animals. But it’s an encouraging thought if you want to promote tourism. Some tourists would pay big money to watch wolves, photograph wolves and shoot wolves.