Friday, February 2, 2024

Picking the wrong pony: wolves and people in Europe

 The Guardian has the story, within the larger story of controversy about wolves, and endangered species.

A wolf killed the EU president’s precious pony - then the fight to catch the predator began. After being hunted to near extinction, wolves have returned to Europe. But when one killed Ursula von der Leyen’s family pony, it ignited a high-stakes battle. Are the animals’ days numbered? by Patrick Barkham

A wolf killed a pony at night...

"Unluckily for the wolf, and perhaps for the entire wolf population of western Europe, Dolly was a cherished family pet belonging to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, one of the most powerful people in the EU. Last September, a year after Dolly’s death, von der Leyen announced plans that to some wolf-defenders looked like revenge: the commission wants to reduce the wolf’s legal protection.

"Action had already been taken against Dolly’s killer. DNA evidence harvested from the pony’s carcass revealed that the wolf was an individual known as GW950m. This mature male wolf, which heads a pack (a wolf family usually numbering eight to 10) living around the von der Leyen residence, appears to have developed a taste for livestock. DNA tests on other carcasses implicates him in the deaths of about 70 sheep, horses, cattle and goats. Experts believe younger pack members might have copied his hunting methods. Because GW950m was now classified as a “problem wolf”, a permit was issued to allow hunters to shoot him legally (wolves can only be killed under exceptional circumstances, according to EU law). It was the seventh such licence to be issued in Lower Saxony, a state the size of Denmark with a thriving population of at least 500 wolves...

"Against the odds, more than a year after the licence to kill was first issued, GW950m remains at large, living quietly on a diet of mostly deer in forests east of Hanover.


"Wolves have adapted swiftly and surely to human-dominated landscapes. But people are struggling to adjust to the wolves. The concentration of packs, von der Leyen declared when announcing the commission’s review of wolf protection laws, “has become a real danger for livestock and potentially also for humans”. In December, the commission proposed to reduce the wolf’s status under the Bern Convention from “strictly protected” to “protected” in order to introduce “further flexibility” – potentially enabling wolves to be hunted and populations reduced across the EU.... “Wolves are a subject that might change elections,” says one German conservationist.


"The wolf’s revival in western Europe is actually an interesting accumulation of accidents. Before its return, EU member states including Germany pushed to ensure that this disappearing species was given the highest protection under the EU’s habitats directive in 1992. When the cold war ended, many eastern European farms were abandoned, meaning that Russian populations found it easier to pad westwards. When the wolf reached Germany, it found hiding places on disused military bases – and, initially, sympathy.

“If wolves had returned 50 years ago, they wouldn’t have stood a chance, because our view of nature was very different to today,” says Kenny Kenner, a wolf expert who collects sightings and DNA data on wolves for the Lower Saxony government, and leads walks to educate people about this fascinating, complicated animal. “We see ourselves as part of nature and, much more importantly, as dependent on nature. This led to the possibility that a species as difficult for us as the wolf could come back.”

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