Could predators be reintroduced in the wild?

The animals at the top of the food chain can have drastic impacts on ecosystem dynamics
09 August 2022

Interview with 

Chris Sandom, University of Sussex

WOLF IN WOOD

A wolf in a snowy woodland

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Bison have just been reintroduced in the UK, which are ENORMOUS animals. Although placid in nature, the thought of living alongside big animals can cause a stir. Chris Smith asked Chris Sandom from the University of Sussex if public opinion be different if we reintroduced a species which was a bit more aggressive and predatory...

Chris Smith - Helping us out with the program on wildlife reintroductions, which is what we're talking about this week is Chris Sandem. Chris, we've just heard from Stan Smith there about the reintroduction of bison into the UK. They're enormous animals. In your experience, he did say they're placid. Would the public be a bit less receptive if we reintroduce something a bit more aggressive and predatory perhaps?

Chris Sandom - Yeah. You get real mixes of response from people. And partly it depends on where you are. I guess it depends on how close you might be living to research onto the possibility of the wolf for reintroduction to Scotland. For example, you saw a lot more positive receptions from people based in urban areas that might enjoy the idea of visiting areas which have the wolf, but don't have to live alongside it and deal with some of the consequences.

Chris Smith - Is this evidence based Chris? As in, do we have an evidence base to fall back on of people doing these kinds of initiatives, so that we can say to people, this is what's realistically likely to happen. If we do this?

Chris Sandom - There's a lot of evidence out there in many different forms. So you're never going to have perfect evidence. Every place is a bit different. One of the arguments for introducing the wolf to somewhere like Scotland is to have an impact on the deer population, which is what was seen in Yellowstone as well. So they have the elk, which is a closely related species to the red deer. They reintroduced the wolves that changed the behaviour of the elk. The population came down and then trees started growing again where they hadn't been before, but that story's more complicated than sometimes it's presented. And that's what I mean by ecology being a very complicated science.

Chris Smith - If we actually were to go down that path of doing this kind of thing, how do we know that if we do this, it's going to work in an environment? If you let these wolves go, then presumably if you get it wrong, to try and reverse things, and that might not be easy to do.

Chris Sandom - Yeah. So one of the key points in the guidelines for reintroduction is to have an exit strategy. So if it's not working, you want to have a way of doing that. As you go up the food chain that tends to mean smaller numbers of individuals. So it would be the potential for catching them up, collars, and knowing where these animals are, as Stan was describing with the bison, seems possible. But also it's about learning to live with nature and predators occur all over the world, if we make that choice.

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