Friday 5 June 2015

Big fauna

At a British zoo recently, I was reading the boards describing tigers. They were part of a conservation effort (which should of course be commended), and there was explanation of how their situation was getting worse because of shrinking habitat and hunting.

All of it quite true, of course. But, as with other of the boards they had, with the way it was written you could easily end up feeling "ah, what a shame that those unenlightened populations should be like that, what a relief that the British should be there to give those animals a chance".

So I thought it would be useful to reflect on what the biggest carnivorous animal left on the British Isles is. It happens to be the grey seal, which ventures on some Scottish islands. What about on land then? It is the Red fox - a frightening prospect indeed. Want to throw in omnivores? Then you have the badger as the largest.
Not that it was always thus. Large mammals, carnivorous and otherwise, used to be plentiful here as elsewhere. But they were exterminated. They were so ages ago would you argue, people nowadays would be far more enlightened? Well, you will find that the UK was not thrilled even with its badger monsters -the last government spent a fortune to get many of them killed, on health grounds that were rejected by the specialists in the field. It is hard to avoid the impression that they were being hunted because some Tory voters wanted them dead.

We would be wise to consider these points when we lament the disappearance of the habitat of animals we admire. Yes, I do lament that - but without re-wilding great chunks of our lands these laments are collectively hypocritical.

Amusingly, a few days after I was having those thoughts, George Monbiot had a column about our past large fauna. It is well worth a read. 

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