Denise with a Eurasian Wolf


“I’d never met a wolf face to face before. Ayla was my first one, and I was hooked right away. She was a captive-bred wolf at Wolf Watch UK and was brought out of her enclosure to meet me. The first thing she did was to check me out by sniffing me. She then squatted and peed on my boots before sitting on my feet!” Denise Taylor, Sustainability Practitioner and Director at Wylde Connections, environmental educator, and member of the IWCN Coexistence Council, laughs as she tells the story.

“The initial meeting with Ayla was the catalyst for decades of wildlife conservation work and inspired my research.”

“I have long been interested in wildlife conservation education, especially when it comes to wolves and other charismatic species that are demonized and much-maligned because they are not understood,” Denise says. “My research involved studying projects with wolves across Europe and North America with a focus on projects in Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, and in the United States. I was interested in how attitudes towards wolves are formed and more importantly how hearts and minds can be changed so that we can learn to co-exist with large predator species.” 

To understand the negative mythology around wolves, Denise focused on attitudes and the use of language, both positive and negative, which is used to describe certain species and their behaviors. 

“Vilifying and demonizing what people consider to be “other” is a common technique used to excuse and justify the destructive behavior humans practice,” she explains. “We’ve seen the wolf wiped out across much of its former ranges because of widespread negative attitudes and the use of language has helped to fuel this by portraying the wolf as well as other species as vermin, pests, vicious, bloodthirsty, nuisances, etc. Once a species has been demonized it gives rise to hatred and fear, which culminates in killing. As we all know in the States and across Europe, this has often been disguised as wildlife management and predator control.” 

“When the wolves were wiped out, they were gassed, poisoned, snared, trapped, and even horrifically pulled apart by horses. You could do whatever you wanted to a wolf and there was no ethical or moral consideration of that, and it largely came down to that use of language and then the attitudes that were formed from that,” she says.

Vucho the wolf @Denise Taylor

This use of language to define species can be seen within many facets of human life and how we view species—not only in verbal conversations—but also affecting attitudes toward countless other species. In the 1950s and 60s, Rachel Carson alerted the world to the war on insects. Her book, Silent Spring, published in 1962, laid out very starkly the impact that the ubiquitous use of pesticides and herbicides had on bird species and other animals. Toxic chemicals worked their way up the food chains with devastating effect. And in almost 60 years, nothing has changed. Today, we are still waging war on wildlife in our gardens as well as in the fields. The shelves at supermarkets, hardware and DIY stores still sell a whole host of traps, powders and poisons designed to kill insects, slugs, snails and small mammals that we continue to perceive as pests or vermin. 

“And we continue to kill numerous species because we think they are encroaching on our territory. But the fact is, we are increasingly encroaching on theirs from wide scale deforestation for agriculture to land development for house building and industry; even right down to the micro-level of pouring boiling water on an ants’ nest. Sadly, we no longer recognize the beneficial services that species large and small provide in their habitats, which ultimately support human life too. We need to learn to coexist with creatures large and small. And rather than selfishly perceiving creatures as pests, we should learn to understand them better and what we can do to coexist with them. Instead of our negative perceptions, we should learn how to instill a sense of wonder in our children and our grandchildren. Get down with them at the micro level and really look at what is going on right under our feet and all around us. There is so much to marvel at,” Denise suggests.

It has become increasingly clear to Denise that the impact of language usage in the world of wildlife extends beyond wolves. Badgers are also highly persecuted in the UK.

“As with the wolf, part of the language used is the same with the badger. They are classified as ‘pests’, as a nuisance, they kill hedgehogs, cause damage and are now vilified as being ‘diseased’ as the UK government tries to tackle the increasing problem of bovine TB, which is a cattle disease, but the badger, as a spillover host, has now become the target,” she explains. “Badgers are being killed by the hundreds of thousands because people are using that language again. When you go out talking to people and you mention badgers, they say ‘oh, they are diseased and they are passing those diseases on to cattle,’ which actually they are not. There has been shown to be no ecological basis for the badger cull that is taking place.” 

Ecologically speaking, the UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries. It is in the bottom 10% globally for biodiversity, making this attitude toward badgers all the more concerning. 

“We don’t have wolves or bears anymore here. And they are doing the same thing to the badger,” Denise says soberly. “We are hearing from people, anecdotally, that badger sets are going quiet. The Badger Trust has lodged a formal complaint with the Bern Convention due to the serious concerns of local extirpations as a result of this legal persecution, which is also fueling illegal persecution.”

“Given the state of nature in the 21st century, it is long overdue that we change our attitudes towards wildlife. We have become so disconnected from the natural world. We simply don’t understand nature anymore,” Denise states. “We need to change mindsets and attitudes before it’s too late and learn to live alongside other species.”

We can think about the context of our words before we speak and acknowledge that everything from the micro-level up to the human species can be impacted by our perceptions. We can learn to coexist and reconnect with nature. 

School children exploring the exhibits at the new Large Carnivore Education Center @Denise Taylor

For Denise, embracing wildlife coexistence was a passion that developed over time, after continuous exposure, education, and experiences that opened her eyes to its value and importance. “I don’t think there was any one moment,” she says. “It’s been one long journey and one that I’m still very much on.”

This is a journey that Denise now strives to make attainable for countless others through her work to educate people about the importance of coexistence and her desire to provide transformative experiences that can encourage people to change their hearts and minds about wildlife. 

“People need to reconnect and talk about biodiversity and about how we live sustainably on the planet. The conversation needs to shift towards not being ‘less bad’ but about being regenerative—getting into conversations about the restoration of land, wildlife, habitats, and species,” Denise says sincerely. “And it’s also about collaborating and co-existing with each other too and becoming more tolerant of other cultures. Coexistence is necessary everywhere.” 

 “Coexistence is coexisting with all beings.”


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