Boundaries of the wolf and the wild: a conceptual examination of the relationship between rewilding and animal reintroduction

Koen Arts*, Anke Fischer, Rene van der Wal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Animal reintroduction and rewilding are two widely appealing and frequently connected forms of ecological restoration. However, the critical assumption that animal reintroduction automatically helps to restore formerly wild places is under-theorized. To fill this void, we identified three common rewilding elements from the literatureecological functioning, wilderness experience, and natural autonomyand screened these against a hypothetical wolf reintroduction to Scotland. Each of the rewilding elements was likely to be positively impacted by a wolf reintroduction. Yet, there is a key conceptual difficulty in that the different rewilding elements do not necessarily enforce each other, and at times may even collide. Thus, a reintroduced species like the wolf may obfuscate the clear-cut, purified nature category to which rewilding often aspires. As a way forward, we suggest that there is merit in actively engaging with the tensions created by rewilding and reintroductions. A reconceptualisation of the nature-culture spectrum as consisting of multiple layers (e.g. ecological functioning, wilderness experience, and natural autonomy) may help to interpret ecological restoration as a tentative, deliberative, and gradual enterprise. This bears some resemblance to the notion of approaching a landscape like a palimpsest' (i.e. a text built up of different layers written on top of each other), which may support the reconciliation of conflicting views without necessarily making those disappear. When viewed as feeding into a multilayered nature-culture spectrum, animal reintroduction and rewilding can be promoted as inspiring and essentially non-controlling forms of ecological restoration and human interaction with nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-34
Number of pages8
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date26 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Funded by
University of Aberdeen
The Macaulay Development Trust
The Scottish Rural and Environment Research and Analysis Directorate Programme 3 CNPq. Grant Number: 314033/2014-9


  • control
  • ecological restoration
  • grey wolf (Canis lupus)
  • Scotland
  • wild
  • red deer management
  • Scottish Highlands
  • wilderness restoration
  • species management
  • large carnivores
  • national-park
  • landscapes
  • wolves
  • conservation


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