The veteran broadcaster, 70, insisted: “They kill all sorts of things. They are a menace.” The University Challenge presenter and former Newsnight anchor, renowned for his ferocious interviewing technique, said: “You sit on the loo with the lid down. “With an air rifle you can pop, pop off a squirrel or two – not while I’m having a **** of course.”
Paxman, who lives in Henley-on-Thames, Oxon, said in an online interview with Richard Herring that he saw nothing wrong with targeting the rodents.
He said: “Why is it cruel? They’re annoying me. They’re always getting on the bird feeder. I love song birds and I can’t stand the fact that squirrels are always driving them off. They kill all sorts of things.
“For example, they kill trees – entire trees are killed by squirrels. They’re a menace.”
But the TV star’s comments were condemned by animal rights groups.
A spokesman for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) said squirrels had every right to life, just as much as Paxo himself.
Peta director Elisa Allen said: “The UK prides itself on not being the Wild West but rather a nation of animal lovers who don’t react to some minor annoyance caused by a squirrel by shooting them dead.
“There are humane ways to deal with perceived problems with wild animals, who have as much of a right to be around as Jeremy Paxman does.
Squirrels ask for nothing from life but the chance to live it, and Paxman would do well to consider Henry David Thoreau’s words: ‘The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest.’”
In Britain the native red squirrel has gone into severe decline since the introduction of the grey squirrel.
Black squirrels, which are a variant of the grey, have been seen in several southern counties.