Six wolf cubs are being settled into their new home at the Wildwood Trust in east Devon as part of a long-term campaign to reintroduce wolves to the UK. Born in Hungary, but raised at a wildlife research centre in Sweden, the cubs are ten-month-old European Grey Wolves – the most likely species to be released into Britain through rewilding. However, should the wolf return, it would probably only be in parts of Scotland and even then not for several years to come.
‘Before we can think about reintroducing carnivores like wolves, we have to get people used to the idea of the species being part of the British landscape,’ says Peter Smith, Wildwood Trust founder and rewilding advocate. He believes the key to rewilding is education: ‘We need to dispel the myths of the “big bad wolf” while also giving young people the skills to rewild in the future.’
Wolves were a native UK species long before they were vilified and eventually exterminated in the 18th century. Since then, their behaviour has become better understood and scientists have also discovered the importance of predator species to ecosystems. It is thought that by reintroducing key species such as the wolves, pressure from the current overabundance of grazing species would be eased on ecosystems, as well as improving the levels of biodiversity. ‘Wolves are keystone species,’ says Smith, ‘which means they drastically alter the environment around them for the better.’
Part of the cubs’ role in Devon will also be to help researchers explore the link between wolves and domestic dog species. Christina Hansen-Wheat, biologist at Stockholm University, will continue to compare the wolf cubs to dog puppies, looking at how the predator’s behaviour began to change as it became domesticated.
The cubs will spend the next four months in quarantine. ‘But the public may still be able to catch glimpses of them before that ends,’ says Smith.