Wolves could eat people’s dogs and cats and be hated in Britain if reintroduced, outdoor survival expert Ray Mears warned.
The TV presenter has spoken out against the ‘rewilding’ campaign to bring back top predators such as lynxes, wolves and even bears.
He warned that wolves, when preying on pets, could be seen as “hounds of hell” and could disperse over large areas.
Britain isn’t ready for more apex predators, Mears told an audience at the Cheltenham Science Festival, because we can’t deal with the ones we already have.
He said: ‘I don’t think we should talk about reintroducing lynx or wolf at this stage because we still have two apex predators that we can’t live with: the hen harrier and the golden eagle. These are still being poisoned.’
Wolves could eat people’s dogs and cats and be hated in Britain if reintroduced, outdoor survival expert Ray Mears warned
Until we can control our existing predators, the survivor added, “I don’t think we have the right to play God.”
After the lecture, he gave the example of Idaho, where the reintroduction of wolves has led many to a “monumental” hatred of the animals.
In Canada, people are advised not to grow fruit trees in their gardens because bears will come for the fruit, causing conflict between bears and humans.
The 59-year-old said: “These animals just have to eat someone’s dog and they become the dog of hell – and what happens is you end up hating the animal more than you did before you started.”
There is growing momentum for the idea of bringing back species that have historically roamed Britain.
Lynx, for example, became extinct in Britain more than 1,000 years ago, but some conservation groups claim the species could help restore natural ecosystems.
In the highlands of Scotland, where wolves were wiped out in 1769, it is argued that their reintroduction could help control red deer, which damage native forests.
But Mears said, “The deer will learn very quickly and become very intelligent, they take advantage of predation.”
“But not the sheep, so of course the wolf will go before the sheep.”
He said that you “cannot contain” intelligent and capable predators that have been released into a certain area and that can easily spread.
In the Highlands of Scotland, where wolves were wiped out in 1769, it is argued that their reintroduction could help control red deer, which damage native forests
In Britain, which has no ‘expanses of wilderness’ to them, but is a fractured landscape full of villages, towns and farmland, this could pose problems.
However, the presenter did raise the idea of people being financially compensated for the damage to livestock and grouse caused by reintroduced wildlife.
The largest predators under consideration for reintroduction into the wild are brown bears, estimated to have numbered more than 13,000 in Britain 7,000 years ago, feeding on a range of large mammals, including deer and bison.
Some are thinking of bringing them back, said Mears, who asked in response to supporters of the idea, “How many of us are on a very small island?”
“It’s easy for you (supporters) to say, but (not) if it’s your livestock that gets eaten, if it’s your dog that gets taken.”
On the danger of ‘romanticizing’ reintroductions, the bushcraft expert said: ‘There’s a part of me that loves the idea of seeing these animals in the wild, but I just don’t think, as a realist, in Great Britain Britain, where we have 13. percent forest, that we are ready for the consequences.
“If you look at what happened when they introduced wolves to Sweden, it almost changed the government when people started losing their dogs to wolves.”
He concluded that Britain is “not ready” for more apex predators, and neither is scientific efforts to bring back woolly mammoths using conserved DNA.
Mears told the science festival that this was a “dangerous” idea, adding: “Animals are not just a product of their genes, but also of their society, of their ecosystem, the conditions that create them, their behavior.”
“I don’t think we can create that with genes alone.”
He added, “I’m afraid we’re playing God, and personally I wouldn’t.”