Conservationists are aghast at a plan to kill thousands of grey squirrels across Scotland in order to allow the red squirrel population room to grow.
“There are alternatives to a cull,” said Ross Minett of the UK’s Advocates for Animals. “There needs to be more research into immunocontraception for greys and there could be a focus on improving the red squirrel habitat.”
Red squirrels once outnumbered the grey variety but now they are seldom found anywhere but Scotland, where 75% of red squirrels live. Grey squirrels were introduced to Scotland in 1876 and have flourished since, growing to a population of 300,000 — twice that of the red squirrel.
Grey squirrels are stronger and have a better juvenile survival rate, but are also responsible for spreading squirrel pox to red squirrels, which are vulnerable to the disease.
The nearly $2 million plan to kill the animals, called Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, has been organized by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and the landowners’ group Scottish Rural Property and Business Association.
Scotland’s Environment Minister Michael Russel chimed in with his support, saying the reds must be saved because of their beauty.
“The red squirrel is one of our most beautiful and valuable native species and Scotland is one of the few sanctuaries it has left,” he said. “Since its introduction to the British Isles, the grey squirrel has gradually taken over with its more aggressive feeding habits, meaning that the red is now endangered. We must act now.”
But the general public does not believe killing the grey species is an appropriate measure to take. According to a survey conducted by Advocated for Animals, less than 1 in 3 Scotts agrees with the plan.
“We believe that lethal control of greys simply because they are ‘alien’ cannot be supported.,” reads the organization’s website. “Like many non-indigenous species, grey squirrels were introduced to Britain by man, and it is simply unethical to cause suffering to individual animals which are in the ‘wrong’ place due to the carelessness or ignorance of previous generations of humans.”
Advocacy for Animals and other animal welfare groups support the development of a vaccine as a more humane solution to the problem.Photo Credits: Gilles Gonthier and gibffe on Flickr under Creative Commons license.