More than half the deer, ponies and cattle living on the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve near Almere have died this winter – most of which were shot by forestry commission staff.
In total, 2,969 of the 5,230 large mammals on the reserve in October have died since then, a far higher total than in previous, milder winters.
Most were shot because they were starving – over population has decimated plant growth and many animals had not been able to put on sufficient fat reserves for winter, the forestry commission says.
The organisation expects more to die in April, and says it aims to kill 90% of the starving animals, to stop unnecessary suffering.
Over the Easter weekend, five people were arrested during efforts to feed the animals. Although the forestry commission initially refused to supply hay to the reserve, it later changed its mind. Protestors, however, said this was too little too late.
Large mammals were introduced in the reserve in the 1980s and 1990s in what has proved to be a controversial move. Reserve wardens hoped that the deer and ponies would eat young shoots, keeping the area open so it will attract geese and other wetland birds.
4-4-2018 (omstreeks 14.45 uur) De #Oostvaardersplassen – Grote Praambult.
Ingezoomed naar de bijvoerplaats. De konikpaarden en herten doen zich tegoed aan het hooi. De foto’s zijn net optijd gemaakt vlakvoor een stevige stortbui.#OVPL @staatsbosbeheer @FransVera pic.twitter.com/7zqwkwBKw4
— Marinus Kalk (@rinuskalk) April 4, 2018
However, the deer, pony and cattle populations have soared, and now hundreds of animals are shot every winter to ensure there is enough food for the rest. They are unable to seek food elsewhere because the area is fenced off.
In the original plan, the reserve was to be linked to the Veluwe region, but that was scrapped as part of budget cuts.
However ‘a corridor for large mammals’ would allow the animals to move to new areas where food is not so scarce, WNF director Kirsten Schuijt told RTL Nieuws last month.
Flevoland provincial council wants to drastically reduce the number of animals in the reserve and introduce more recreational options, including cycling and walking routes.
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