February 11, 2009

Scottish Grey Squirrel Cull Started Tuesday

They may adorable little critters but the grey squirrels in northern Scotland will need more than that on their sides after the release of Britain's biggest culling operation of a mammal.

Naturalists and landowners are working together to purge northern Scotland of the squirrels, insisting that they transmit a fatal pox virus and intimidate the petite red squirrel.

Scotland is a safe haven for the at risk red squirrel, whose numbers have decreased in Britain since the entrance of its larger, disease-carrying American cousin in the 1870s.

"The red squirrel is the UK's only native squirrel but it is in danger of becoming extinct on mainland Scotland if action is not taken to protect it," Mel Tonkin, head of the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels campaign, told the AFP.

"Our project aims to stop the decline of Scotland's red squirrels and help them expand across the country in the future, but we have a huge task ahead of us," Tonkin added.

There are an estimated 120,000 red squirrels in Scotland and between 200,000 and 300,000 grey squirrels.

Thousdands of the grey squirrels will be trapped and destroyed in the three-year, $2 million campaign supported by the Scottish government, the Guardian said.

Landowners will be allowed to kill the greys starting this spring, the newspaper added.

The culling has ignited anger from animal lovers. However, Stuart Brooks, director of conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, is adamant that the campaign is necessary.

"I can understand and empathize with those people who do not like the prospect of killing wild animals, but it is disingenuous to say that there are viable alternative solutions to saving the red squirrel in Scotland," Brooks said.


On the Net: