Reintroducing wolves to England? Not a problem (6)

When people suggest that it would be impossible to introduce a wolf pack to the English countryside, they should be aware of the following story. The usual belief is that:

“The Gray Wolf canis lupus has been extinct in England since 1486, in Scotland since 1743 and in Ireland since about 1770.”

Something strange happened though, in Epping Forest in the late nineteenth century.  Mention of it comes from Beatrix Potter in her Journal from 1881 to 1897:

“Several years ago a gentleman let loose three prairie wolves in Epping Forest. These animals have increased in numbers, and are perfectly wild and shy”.


Talking about what a potential problem the breeding of the American Mink in England might be, in New Scientist for January 18th 1962, Harry V Thompson, Ministry of Agriculture Field Research Station, Worplesdon wrote:

“Tales of escaped coyotes canis latrans or prairie wolves in Epping Forest in the late nineteenth century may come to mind …”

In Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, George M. Eberhart stated:

“A few Coyote cubs canis latrans are said to have been introduced around 1881 in Epping Forest, Essex, England.”


A slightly longer version occurs in some documents from Regent’s Park Zoo dating from July 19th, 1884. Here, the animals are said to have been coyotes:

” Some short time since a gentleman called upon me at the gardens and offered to present to the Society an animal that he believed to be a prairie wolf. He mentioned some particulars concerning its history that caused me not at once to accept his offer, fearing that the animal might prove to be a useless mongrel. At the same time I asked his address, and promised to call and see the animal.

Accordingly, I went to Leytonstone and on my arrival I inquired for Mr. R. Payze, and found the gentleman who had so kindly offered the animal in question. He was very pleased to meet me, and introduced me to what I at once pronounced to be a veritable prairie wolf (Canis latrans). The history of this animal I give as near as possible in Mr. Payze’s words. In the month of May last year some men who were on their way to London with cartloads of hay told him, on their coming through some part of Epping Forest (” near Ongar,” is the locality given in some narratives), they had found or caught three fox cubs, and they had them in a sack tied to the tail of the cart:


Believing them to be fox cubs, he bought one of them for a few shillings, and the men went on their way towards London. The animal was at that time so small that it could be put into a pint pot, and I have every reason to believe the following narrative will fully explain what otherwise would appear a mystery. Mr. Payze introduced me to Mr. Swan (who was formerly a servant to Colonel Howard), and he told me that some few years ago four cubs were brought to England in a ship belonging to Mr. J. R. Fletcher, of the Union Docks, and were turned loose (supposed to be fox cubs) in Ongar Wood, which adjoins Epping Forest. These cubs were brought home in a box and kept for a few days at Colonel Howard’s, Goldings, Loughton. They were then taken to Mr. Arkwright’s, formerly master of the Essex Hunt, and were turned out at Marl’s Farm, and the man Swan was present when they were turned out. I have also been informed that from time to time an animal, supposed to be a large gray fox, has been hunted, but never caught, always escaping into the forest.

single wolf

I think it highly probable that some of the same kind as the animal now in the gardens still exist in the forest, as this species of wolf is not much larger than a large male fox, and not having any scent like the fox, would not be likely to get killed by foxhounds or followed any great distance by them.”

The editor of  Land and Water magazine supplemented this account as follows :

” Subsequently, in company with Mr. Bartlett, we visited Epping Forest ; and from the inquiries made we have little doubt as to the fact of the animal in question having been born in the forest. Swan and other persons who have been acquainted with the forest for many years told us they well recollect the circumstance of the ‘strange animals from foreign parts’ being turned down, and we expect shortly to have further confirmatory evidence from others who were present on the occasion. When first born, the prairie wolf might readily be mistaken for a cub fox. Mr. Payze, who is a lover of animals, and has from time to time kept many tame foxes, was under the impression until quite
recently that ‘ Charlie,’ as the animal is called, was a fox.


As it developed, however, he noticed several points quite distinct from the common fox, and as, moreover, the animal (although quite quiet with his children) showed unmistakable snappish tendencies towards strangers, he decided to consult Mr. Bartlett, with the result that the superintendent declared that the creature was a Prairie Wolf canis latrans.
(This determination was not correct, see post.—Editor.”

Whatever the animals were, they seem to have persisted until the beginning of the 20th century. The previous article from the Regent’s Park Zoo was criticised for its naivety, Henry Foster sarcastically stating that “his dog was recently killed and proclaimed to be a wolf”.

wolves 2

On October 23rd 1884, however, Henry Ffennell, however, contradicted Mr Foster. Ffennell  had some connection with Regent’s Park and stated that

“the animal was definitely a wolf, bred and captured in the forest. It could be viewed at the gardens.”

A print of the “English Wolf” is widely available to buy on the Internet. It has this caption alongside it:

“Concerning the animal depicted in our engraving which has aroused much interest among naturalists and others, Mr AD Bartlett, the Superintendent of the Zoological Society’s Gardens , Regent’s Park, writes thus:-

“The prairie wolf now being exhibited in these gardens was presented by Mr K Payne, of Leytonstone, who says he bought the animal about a year ago. it was one of three that had been taken in Epping Forest by some farm labourers, Mr Payne believing at the time that it was a fox cub. Its subsequent growth, however, caused him to suspect that it was not a fox. As it became troublesome on account of its destructive habits, notwithstanding that it had been reared perfectly tame, he decided to get rid of it, and accordingly presented it to this Society. Inquiry is now being initiated with a view to ascertain, if possible, the manner in which the parents had been introduced into that part of the country. It is said that, some years ago, some foreign cubs, supposed to be foxes, were turned out in  the neighbourhood of Epping Forest.”

epping wolf print

No problem, then. Find a forest. Tell people your wolves are just Grey Foxes, and take it from there.



Filed under Cryptozoology, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

16 responses to “Reintroducing wolves to England? Not a problem (6)

  1. An interesting article John. I do wonder if the re-introduction of species that have disappeared from these isles is a good idea. After all, they disappeared for a reason. There are well-known issues concerning the re-introduction of the wild boar as this passage from a recent article in the Guardian points out: “Now, having settled in nicely, the wild boars find themselves accused of everything short of satanism. Walkers say they live in fear of boars attacking them or their dogs. Farmers complain of thousands of pounds’ worth of damage done to crops, fences flattened, maize laid waste. Homeowners have their lawns dug up and their gardens destroyed. And many people fear what inevitably follows the boar: the poachers and the men with guns” – one wonders what problems the re-introduction of the wolf might be? Or even the bear? Nevertheless, the thought that the Prairie Wolf may have arrived by ship and is possibly surviving in Epping forest is indeed intriguing.

    • Thanks a lot for your comments. I think our government is always wiling to listen to vested financial interests about these kind of things. Every country in Europe had already introduced beavers before we dared let a couple go. And now they generate lots of revenue from tourists. Lynx would not be a problem since they do not attack humans and are very, very seldom seen, as has been proved to be the case in Sweden. I wouldn’t introduce bears as they might well be dangerous although this does not seem to be the case in Rumania or Bulgaria, where, again, they are a source of tourist revenue. Wolves would be best introduced on a Scottish island where red deer are a problem. If the wolves proved to be a mistake, they could be recaptured easily. After that, I would try other remote areas of Scotland which have a big deer problem. As for why these species all died out, it was Man, Beavers for their pelts and their oil, lynx and bears for their fur and wolves because there was a bounty paid on every one killed. And for all of these creatures, people will pay a £1000 for less than a week of wildlife holiday to see them.

      • Thanks John. I hadn’t considered the benefits of the re-introduction of indigenous populations back into their natural habitats. Once again, man is the culprit. We should do much more to carefully manage our environment and co-exist with other species, not destroy them.

  2. Being frightened of dogs of any breed I really wouldn’t want tocome across a wolf when out walking!

    • I don’t think you would. Wolves are naturally very shy. Personally, I would much rather meet a wolf than a Staffordshire Bull terrier in the local country park. The truth is in those wildlife holidays I mentioned in a comment above. I know people who have paid their £1000 to look for wolves in Rumania and even with specialist guides, only seen a footprint.

  3. Fascinating, John. Liam Neeson would certainly be able to authenticate such a wolf.

    • He certainly would. It’s quite surprising what the Victorian hunting and fishing community got up to with releasing animals that could then be hunted. And birds too. There were many attempts to persuade Black Woodpeckers to breed over here, all unsuccessful.

  4. I do think wolves are beautiful creatures but wouldn’t want to happen across one in the dark of a forest. Think I’ll avoid Epping for just a short while yet…just in case.

    • If you go into the forests round here, you’ll find them full of people at night. Adulterers, doggers, poachers and the Army out on night manoeuvres. That would scare Bigfoot, let alone wolves! Seriously, I don’t think you’d ever see one. A few years back, they opened a cargo container in the north east, and two wolverines made their escape. They are one of the fiercest animals you can meet, but they were never seen again.

  5. Recent figures from Scotland show Wildlife Tourism to be worth £276 million a year, and it supports 2,763 full time jobs so there are definite benefits to nature.

    We have managed to eradicate coypu and Ruddy Ducks so a few wolves wouldn’t be a problem if we had to reverse the introduction.

  6. I hadn’t thought of it that way but you are absolutely right. It would actually be possible to have an experimental introduction of wolves on a big island somewhere. Most people do not realise the value of wildlife tourism. I saw a programme about Yosemite recently and a scientist said that the wolf pack there is worth millions and millions of dollars because so many people come to see them and stay over for a couple of days in hotels.

  7. Chris Waller

    I suspect the demise of the wolf in England was due to Henry VII’s promotion of the wool trade, essential in those times to restoring England’s economic fortunes. One imagines that livestock farmers today would be less than enthusiastic about the return of the wolf.

    • To be honest, we give farmers so much money in subsidies…42% of their income can be taxpayer hand outs…that I don’t think they have any real rights to influence a decision about the reintroduction of animals. Nature tourism generates far more income and jobs than farmers ever do. And people love to see spectacular wild life, as the eagles in the Highlands show. One thing I’ve always wondered, particularly as regards the livestock farmer is why they never protect their stock? Why don’t they have people to patrol at night and stop, for example, the wolves eating cattle?

  8. Wolf, coyote, or jackal?

    Pardon the belated reply to this article; but, I am presently reviewing the notes of Charles Hoy Fort, including one upon this mystery.

    The popular identification of “Charlie” as a “wolf” (Canis lupus) from Epping Forest is doubtful. He was identified as a “prairie wolf,” which most Canadians and Americans know as coyotes (Canis latrans, a species native to North America, and, not to Britain). Further to this, Abraham Dee Bartlett later identified Charlie, (still alive at the London Zoo, in 1891), as a jackal.

    “The animal you ask about is alive. At the time it came here, we considered that it was a ‘Prairie Wolf,’ but we now find that it is a North African Jackal. The two species are very much alike, differing only in size,” (“Modern Legends of Supposed Wolves in Epping Forest.” Transactions of the Essex Field Club, 4 (1886): cciv-ccix).

    From the sketches of “Charlie” that I’ve seen, (in The Graphic and in Land and Water), I agree with Bartlett that he more closely resembles the side-striped jackal of Africa (Canis adustus) than North American wolves or coyotes.

    Altho some Canadian wolves have successfully repopulated their breed in Yellowstone National Park, during the past twenty years, the origin of the so-called “English Wolf” from Epping Forest remains a mystery. Was he one of four “fox” cubs brought from abroad by a ship belonging to Mr. J.R. Fletcher, of the Union Docks, via Col. S. Lloyd Howard, (according to Land and Water of July 19, 1884)? Was he a descendant of a “coyote,” which was shot there in 1862 and displayed in the museum at Chelmsford, (an escapee from “some travelling wild-beast show,” according to the St. James’s Gazette of November 25, 1884)? His origins and presence in Epping Forest remain a complicated mystery; but, it is also doubtful that anyone, today, would want to introduce either North American coyotes or African jackals, to the wild fauna of Essex, again.

    • Thank you so much for this wonderfully detailed contribution. It is actually quite amazing what identifications were made in the 19th century and also how confusing their various animal names may have been. I came across the same situation a few years ago with the names of seabirds such as what we now call petrels and shearwaters.
      I agree fully with you about introducing North American coyotes and/or African jackals to Essex or anywhere else in England. Alien species never seem to do any good!

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