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(From Guardian Unlimited)
Is the United Kingdom the most zoophobic nation in Europe? Do we, in other words, have an unusually intense fear of wild animals?
We've certainly been less successful than other nations at protecting large mammals. Norway and Finland, for example, have lost none of their large, post-glacial land mammal species. But, until recently, our native species numbered just two: roe deer and red deer. As David Hetherington of the Cairngorms Wildcat Project pointed out at a meeting in London zoo last year, the UK is "the largest country in Europe and almost the whole world" which no longer possesses any of its big carnivores. Other countries as densely populated and industrialised as ours have managed to hang on to theirs.
There are several reasons for this failure. Early and extensive deforestation wiped out much of the habitat large mammals require. England was colonised by a ruling class -- the Normans -- which was fanatical about hunting. Once an island loses its mammals, it becomes very difficult for them to recolonise naturally. But another factor is the peculiar and fearful determination of the people who own large tracts of land to kill …