Wolves receive death sentence from Swiss for exceeding sheep quota
The animals are on the wrong side of a law that tolerates a certain amount of killing.
By Emma Hartley
Grey wolf populations in east and central Europe populations have begun to recover and spread Photo: GETTY
Three wolves known to have killed 42 sheep in the Swiss cantons of Lucerne and Valais over the last month or so have had a death sentence passed on them by the Swiss authorities.
The wild animals, which are believed to have originated from France and Italy, fell under the shadow of the gun when, in a peculiarly Swiss twist, they exceeded their quota for sheep-taking over the summer.
Dozens of sheep have been reported to have fallen prey in Valais, which is in western Switzerland, with 15 sheep killed on the night of August 1 alone. Twenty-seven sheep were killed in July in the central Swiss canton of Lucerne.
Swiss law allows the predators to kill only 35 animals in four months, while the monthly quota is 25. However, the limit falls to 15 a month for protected herds, which is what the wolves’ prey have been.
One of the three was shot dead by a wildlife warden on August 20. Jacques Blanc, deputy chief of Valais’ hunting service, said: “When the wolf was on its way back in the early morning, it was less suspicious. It was at this moment that the warden surprised it. He was alone, 150 metres from the wolf, when he shot it.”
Twenty wardens will be lying in wait for the remaining two throughout September.
According to Walter Vetterli of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) the figure of three wolves was arrived at because the killing occurred in three different areas. “There is a problem of fact here. There is no way to be sure that the three wolves that die are the three that did the killing.
“It could be only two that are responsible. Or one.”
The WWF has appealed against the death sentences, saying that many of the animals that were killed were insufficiently well-protected and may have escaped their pens on the night of August 1 because of fright at fireworks on Switzerland’s national day.
There are estimated to be 12 wolves in Switzerland, which was free of them for many years until 1995. The dozen or so Canis lupus, or grey wolves, have not yet formed into a pack, although the presence of two females means that they are believed to be likely to do so soon.
“Wolves share the looking after of their young,” explained Tony Mitchell-Jones, the mammal specialist at Natural England. “Female wolves and their cubs form the centre of a pack.”
There are periodic calls by wildlife enthusiasts to reintroduce wolves to Britain, where they were exterminated in the 17th century, making Britain probably the first country to do so.
According to the website of the Wolf Trust, a group that lobbies on behalf of the creatures, they are re-establishing themselves in France, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland from a small number that remained in Italy and Spain. There have also been occasional sightings in Austria and Hungary.
“The recurrence of wolves after a long time would be part of a process of ‘re-wilding’ which has advocates, mainly on the grounds that wolves help to control the deer population. But in reality wolves would also take sheep, as they are doing in Europe,” said Mr Mitchell-Jones.
The head of the association of herders in the French-speaking part of Valais, Florian Volluz, said that wolves “have no place here”.
He said he was “exasperated by a situation that has lasted 15 years,” adding that protection measures proposed by the authorities, such as the installation of enclosures, guards and watch dogs, were inefficient.
“These measures are like bandaging a wooden leg,” said Mr Volluz, who advocates an absolute cull.