By Lindsey Johnstone with AP
The return of wolves to German forests is causing farmers concern for their livestock, and dividing opinion on how to deal with the problem – and who is entitled to do so.
Wolves were once almost extinct in the country but as of 2019, 59 packs have been counted. According to the Brandenburg environmental agency, in 2007 there were no wolf packs, while in 2019, 17 have been recorded across the state.
Farmers are angered by the resulting mounting attacks on their animals and have demanded the right to kill the predators. Across Europe, wolves are strictly protected and the deliberate shooting of a wolf is a criminal offence in Germany, punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to five years.
“This year we [had two calves killed] and last year we had a total of twelve killed, and before that two. We are seeing a significant increase in the number of wolf attacks here,” said Elard von Gottberg, a farmer from Brandenburg.
“Many preventative measures are proposed, particularly building fences. But we know that the hungry wolf can overcome any fence that has been recommended to us in the past.
“We demand the so-called protective hunt. In other words, if there is a danger [to] the lives of our livestock or to a human, we are in favour of defending ourselves. We want to be able to defend our herds.”
Wolves most commonly attack sheep and goats, which made up almost 86 per cent of the livestock injured or killed between 2002 and 2017, according to the German federal agency DBBW (the Documentation and Consultation Centre of the Federal Government about the Wolf).
Imke Heyter, head of wildlife park Wildpark Schorfheide, said the public needs to learn more about wolves to overcome misconceptions that have roots in traditional fairytales, saying: “[The wolf] cares very lovingly for his offspring and he is actually more afraid of us humans than the other way around.”
Local politicians are also keen to weigh in on the debate. While most parties agree that wolves that cause problems or pose a danger to humans should be killed, there is no consensus about who is authorised to do it.
“The SPD [Socialist Party] agriculture minister specified that the only individuals authorised [to put down a wolf] are specified by the Department of the Environment or by the highest environmental authority,” said Benjamin Raschke, an MP for the Greens.
“The CDU would like that basically each man or each hunter can do it if he or she has the opinion that there is a problematic wolf. That’s what the argument is about.”
He added that there is an advantage in having wolves back in Germany, as they restore a natural balance to the eco-system and could improve re-forestation.
“The ecosystem here is designed to have a predator at the top. We have in Brandenburg 90,000 wild boars which are shot every year and approximately 60,000 deer. It is increasing every year.
“This means simply that hunting is not enough to get these animals under control. There are more and more wild pigs every year. And that hinders us for example with reforestation efforts. We want to rebuild the forest in Brandenburg.”