Prince Charles reportedly backs a plan to sterilize Britain’s grey-squirrel population, and it involves Nutella. The monarch-in-waiting is said to have met with members of the U.K. Squirrel Accord, a coalition he helped establish three years ago, to discuss ways to reduce the animal’s numbers without culling. Originally from North America, the Eastern grey squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, has been the bane of the region’s native red squirrels since the late 19th century, when the Victorians first imported the animals to add living flair to their estates.
There was one problem, however. Not only do grey squirrels compete for the same resources, but they also carry a pox virus that is harmless to them but fatal to their ruddier rivals. According to a recent census, the number of red squirrels have plummeted from roughly 3.5 million in the 1950s to about 130,000 today. Meanwhile, grey squirrels, which have gone on to thrive, are some 2.5 million strong.
So where does the hazelnut spread come in? Per members of the Accord, which include the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the Scottish and Welsh governments, oral contraceptives slipped into bait could dramatically yet humanely reduce the number of grey squirrels by up to 90 percent. And like we humans, squirrels have a weakness for Nutella.
Field testing by the Animal and Plant Health Agency has led its scientists to devise the perfect trap, one that allows grey squirrels to squeeze through but leaves red squirrels, mice, and other smaller mammals out in the cold. No risk of accidental dosing here.
“It is the most exciting prospect I have seen for controlling greys,” Charles Kinnoull, chairman of the U.K. Squirrel Accord, told the Times. “I don’t harbor a great extermination instinct but I am interested in protecting our broadleaf trees and there being red squirrels around for my children to see.”
The Prince of Wales himself roots for the red squirrel, even at one point suggesting installing the critter as a national mascot. “I put nuts in the lobby and leave the door open and the red squirrels come up the steps into the house,” he told the Telegraph in 2011. “Very often you get four or five running around inside the house, chasing each other to get at the nuts. My great ambition is to have one in the house, I hate to tell you. Sitting on the breakfast table and on my shoulder!”
Via the Guardian