Wolves: Good for nature, but dangerous for humans - DW - 09/08/2023

Wolves: Good for nature, but dangerous for humans – DW – 09/08/2023

Children are brought up with stories about big bad wolves: how they roam the woods, disguise themselves as sheep or grandmothers, and tear apart houses to eat the little pigs that live inside. We learn early on that wolves are a threat in the dark, a symbol of the evil that lurks beyond the safety of urban society.

We learn to fear wolves, either through myth or experience. Our fear of wolves nearly drove them to extinction in the 1800s. Once it spread across Europe, mass extermination policies wiped out the wolf.

The wolves returned about a century later.

Today, they are thriving – about 17,000 wolves live in Europe and are gradually returning to their ancestral lands.

Wolves: good for the ecosystem but they kill livestock

Science suggests wolves are good for the ecosystem as a whole. Studies in the US and Canada suggest that wolves have a rehabilitative effect when reintroduced to their habitats.

But not everyone is happy about the return of wolves to Europe. Some reports suggest that wolves are increasingly encroaching on human civilization, attacking livestock and, occasionally, humans.

Farmers in Lower Saxony, Germany, felt the brunt of such an attack. Between January and August 2023, more than 600 animals were killed there by wolves.

These attacks have led to farmers taking matters into their own hands, often poaching wolves.

EU under pressure to change wolf protection rules

The mounting pressure led the European Commission to intervene, including its president, Ursula von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen has been at the center of discussions surrounding wolves since 2022, when a wolf killed her pony, Dolly. Von der Leyen placed a kill order on the wolf, identified as GW950m, but it managed to elude hunters and is believed to be larger.

In a statement on 4 September 2023, Von der Leyen said:

“The concentration of wolf packs in some parts of Europe has become a real danger to livestock and possibly to people. I urge the local and national authorities to take action where necessary. In fact, the current EU law already allows them to do so.”

The European Commission will now decide whether to change the protection of wolves within the EU, which would allow hunting rights to be eased.

Protesting farmers dump dead sheep in front of a government building in Switzerland after livestock were killed by wolvesImage: Pablo Gianinazzi/Keystone/image alliance

Farmers’ and hunters’ lobby groups are pushing for weaker wolf protection laws and less regulation when applying for wolf hunting permits.

“There is a need for a quick and effective extermination of wolves that repeatedly eat pastures, and a reliable method of wolf control,” said Joachim Rukwied, President of the German Farmers’ Association, in an August report. .

Let’s hunt the wolves or traditional farming will end!

Rukwied also said in this report that if the politicians do not identify the issue of the wolf, the pastures in Germany may disappear. “Herding cattle, sheep, goats and horses on this land will be a thing of the past,” he said.

Conservationists, on the other hand, and animal protection groups, are urging the EU Commission to keep the wolf protection laws as they are.

“Wolves are part of Europe’s natural history. We almost exterminated them once, so we have to protect their habitat,” Fabien Quétier, a conservation expert at Rewilding Europe, told DW.

Science says wolves help restore the natural environment

Quétier is concerned that moves to make it easier to hunt wolves could have an impact on Europe’s wildlife.

In the 1990s, the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in the US helped restore rivers and forest ecosystems. This area has been suffering from erosion and defoliation due to increased deer and bull population.

Wolves hunted deer and elk and changed their behavior to avoid the valleys and canyons in Yellowstone National Park. As a result, wild animals began to appear, plants, insects, birds and mammals came into their own. It even reduced the flow of the river.

There is evidence in Europe that reintroducing wolves has created a movement among prey, which reduces the pressure their prey has on plants or new trees.

“The main thing is that wolves help maintain the ecosystem balance,” said Quétier.

Wolves are credited with helping to restore ecosystems in Yellowstone National Park when they were reintroduced there in 1995.Image: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images

Our fear of wolves: back to the 1800s?

Wolve attacks on humans are extremely rare. The WWF report found that there were 12 attacks in Europe and North America combined – over 18 years – from 2002 to 2020.

But Quétier worries that attitudes toward wolves are influenced by the same kind of fear people had in the 1800s.

“There are programs for the elimination of dangerous wolves that can start again. The consequences of wolf hunting and poisoning will have negative consequences for nature,” said Quétier.

Attitudes toward wolves improved in the 1970s when wolves received better legal protections such that hunters were prohibited from shooting or poisoning them. This is all due to a cultural shift in the way carnivores in the wild are viewed.

“There was a change of mind about wolves that led to their protection. As environmental problems have gone, people’s concern for wild animals grew, and this is reflected in the policies we have to protect wild animals,” said Quétier.

The European Commission’s task now is to explore how best wolves and humans can live side by side, while minimizing the costs incurred on rural communities.

Edited by: Zulfikar Abbany

#Wolves #Good #nature #dangerous #humans

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