By Justin Huggler, Berlin
Animal rights activists have flocked to eastern Germany in a bid to prevent the culling of a wolf that has been preying on local farmers’ sheep.
Activists from across Germany are camping out in the forests of Upper Lausitz, a sparsely populated area near the border with Poland, in an attempt to stop hunters tracking down the wolf.
“I’ve been here since Monday. We’re protecting the wolves and facing down the hunters,” Bettina Jung, the head of Germany’s Animal Protection Party, told Bild newspaper.
But local farmers are furious at what they see as the activists’ interference. “These radical eco-warriors hang around in the dark with their cars and night vision equipment, scaring my livestock,” one said.
The head of the local hunting association has called on landowners to press criminal charges against the activists.
Wolves are generally protected by strict laws in Germany as an endangered species, and killing them is prohibited.
But local authorities have lifted the ban for a specific pack that has repeatedly attacked farms and mauled sheep in the area.
The stand-off between activists and farmers is a sign of the growing tensions as the rapidly rising wolf population begins to encroach on human habitations.
Just twenty years ago, there were no wolves left in Germany after the species was hunted to extinction in the early 20th century.
But wolves have made a remarkable comeback since the end of the Cold War. When the Iron Curtain fell and border defences were removed, they began to wander back into Germany from neighbouring Poland.
Today, there are believed to be more than 30 packs roaming Germany, and wolves have been photographed just 30 miles from Hamburg, the country’s second largest city.
The lifting on the hunting ban on what authorities have named the “Rosenthal Pack” only applies to a specific wolf which has been identified attacking sheep, and not to the pack in general.
A single licensed hunter has been appointed by the authorities to track and kill the culprit.
But the activists are determined to stop that happening. “We try to disturb the hunters, and keep watch over the sheep pastures,” said Stefan Voss, who patrols the forest every night.