Peaceful co-existence between wolves and sheep farmers is possible, says regional director Europe at International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Joep van Mierlo.
It was Omroep Gelderland that bagged the scoop on May 19th: a wolf pair had settled in the Netherlands for the first time in over a century. The two were spotted in the Veluwe national park. The news was greeted with whoops of delight by many but the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is afraid that others are less enthusiastic and may take action.
Judging from the emotional responses triggered by the return of the wolf, it is easy to see why the animal became extinct in the Netherlands 140 years ago. This time around we must do everything we can to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
For decades the Netherlands has been conducting an environmental policy destined to lead to the return of the wolf. Over a 20 year period, hundreds of millions of euros were spent on the Natura 2000 network, the Flora and Fauna law and the list of protected species. These efforts in the area of rules and regulations, execution, enforcement and the creation of ecoducts are now resulting in the return of the wolf.
Perhaps farmers never thought it would come to this. Now that it has they are panicking and calling for wolves to be culled, just as in Germany. But killing wolves would amount to a direct destruction of this capital investment. Wolves contribute to our ecosystems and promote an already endangered biodiversity.
Wolves go after deer and boar. Their remains form the basis for the so-called ‘carrion fauna’. They attract smaller carrion eaters, like beetles and butterflies as well as bigger carrion eaters like badgers, stone martens, birds such as the ospreys and even griffon vultures. The excrement of all these animals are spread over large areas and restores the mineral cycle which is out of balance in many of the country’s nature reserves. The wolf plays a key role in this process.
We regard the return of the wolf as a crowning achievement after years of shaping environmental policy. IFAW is not blind to the darker side of the wolf’s return, which is primarily experienced by sheep farmers. Travel makes hungry and wolves will be tempted by an unprotected snack en route. Some 170 sheep were killed by wolves on the move last year. Some 1,600 sheep, almost ten times as many, were killed by stray dogs.
We understand how farmers feel when they see their sheep have been killed. They love their animals and want to look after them. For many farmers they are (part of) their livelihood.
But we mustn’t let emotions guide us. We should prevent or limit sheep from being killed and so protect the wolf against itself. It can be done and would cost relatively little.
There are ways that have been proven to be effective to keep wolves away from sheep. Simple electric fences are a deterrent to wolves and will limit contact to a minimum.
In Germany many sheep farmers use electric fencing and netting in areas which are home to wolf packs and reports of attacks on sheep have been few and far between. They are not 100% effective but then nothing is. An airbag cannot guarantee you will survive every crash.
Wolf netting is relatively cheap. Some €2m will buy enough electric fences and netting to cover the east of the country in its entirety. That is peanuts compared to the huge investments that have been made in environmental schemes in the last 30 years.
By using netting, and other solutions, farmers and nature lovers together can keep both sheep and wolves safe. If they don’t the wolves in the Netherlands will be doomed – again.
This column was published earlier in the Volkskrant
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