The Edwardian aristocracy loved to travel and collect exotic animals as souvenirs. Species were stuffed, others shipped back to show-off to starry eyed guests. You can imagine the dinner conversation, “and after port and cigars we shall look at the striped horses they call Zebra.”
Items from private collections occasionally went missing. Some say the Beast of Bodmin Moor is a black panther, escaped from a private zoo. The first wild black squirrel was spotted in 1912 near Letchworth in Hertfordshire after escaping from a private collection owned by the Duke of Woburn. The black squirrel is a genetic mutation of the grey squirrel which could soon outnumber the red squirrel. There are an estimated 25,000 black squirrels in the UK and 30,000 red squirrels.
In 1902 a handful of the enticingly named edible dormouse (Glis glis) escaped. Today there are an estimated 20,000 Glis glis residing in 25 mile radius of Tring. Although very cute, Glis glis are incredibly noisy and have become a nuisance to Chiltern homeowners sharing a home with the noisy critters who like to gnaw electrical cable and produce humongous amounts of waste.
In the US escaped pets are more sinister. A paper published on Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported a severe decline in the number of small mammals in the Everglades. The culprit was the Burmese python. The gigantic 13 foot constricting snake which is native to Asia, slivers through the waterways of south Florida, preying on a wide variety of mammals and birds. The report stated that before 2000, mammals were encountered frequently during nocturnal road surveys within the Everglades National Park. A decade later there is a 99.3% decrease in the frequency of raccoon observations, decreases of 98.9% and 87.5% for opossum and bobcat observations, respectively, and no rabbits. Some of the Burmese pythons are escaped pets, others dumped or introduced into the Everglades on purpose.
The Americans have spent $78million trying to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. The Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association claim it could be catrosophic if the Asian carp infests US lakes. Anyone found in procession of asian carp can be fined $60,000. If you spot an Asian carp click here to learn how to report it.
Evicting the outlaws from your home it not straightforward. It is an offence under Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to release or allow the escape of any invasive species into the wild, including Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat.
Invasive species not only create havoc for native species, they can be bad for your health. The Giant African Land Snail was banned from being kept as a pet in the US in 2004 because it can carry a parasite that can lead to meningitis.
The legacy left by the Edwardian collectors has been costly. Invasive non-native species cost the British economy over £1.7 billion a year, with the Norwegian rat creating £62 million pounds worth of havoc.
To report a sighting of a black squirrel go to www.blacksquirrelproject.org to help map the population of this invading species.