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Switzerland wants to slay Europe’s wolves


23 Nov 2005, Gland, Switzerland – WWF is urging European Union member states to reject a proposal by the Swiss government to allow the hunting of wolves in Europe. According to the global conservation organization, a recent report shows that the wolf has not yet recovered in Europe and there are worrying gaps in available data.

The Swiss proposal was submitted to the Council of Europe and will be voted upon at next week’s meeting of the Bern Convention. WWF says it is an unacceptable and irresponsible attempt, which contradicts the Convention’s stated aims.

“It is incredible that Switzerland, with a wolf population of two or three individuals, has the audacity to ask the Council of Europe to allow hunting,” said Joanna Schoenenberger, Large Carnivore specialist from WWF’s European Alpine Programme.

“The wolf finally returned to Switzerland in 1995, but none of those individuals have reproduced. Any culling in the Alps would be a disaster for the wolf population here.”

Switzerland already tried to downgrade the wolf’s conservation status last year, but the Council of Europe accepted WWF’s request for further wide-ranging research. The resulting report clearly shows that the wolf has not recovered in most of the EU signatory states. It also says that hunting, poaching and official lethal controls are preventing the wolf population from increasing. Even in countries with large numbers of wolves, such as Slovakia or Bulgaria, little is known about their status.

“It is way too early to reduce the wolf’s protected status as the population in Europe is on the brink and still absent in seven EU countries,” said Dr Gerald Dick of the WWF European Programme. “This has nothing to do with real benefits for local communities or managing an endangered species.”

Wolves were driven to extinction throughout most of Western Europe by the beginning of the last century. Thanks to conservation efforts, the animals have returned to the European Alps from Italy’s Apennine Mountains.

Despite the fact that livestock predation by wolves is usually very low in Western Europe – and that many more sheep are killed by dogs – farmers are quick to blame wolves for losses and shoot them in retaliation, WWF says. Since prevention measures, such as the use of guard dogs and electric fences to keep wolves away from livestock have come into force, the problem has been considerably reduced.

WWF does not agree that the wolf population in Switzerland constitutes a threat to local communities, and says there is no legitimate reason to decrease the wolf’s protected status.

In the long term, the small wolf populations in Western Europe will rely on other populations in the east of Europe to breed and thrive. The Alpine arc – 1,200km in length from Nice to Vienna and covering about 192,000km2 – plays an essential role for the entire Western European wolf population area and also functions as a major corridor for wildlife migration.

1. The seven EU continental countries without wolves are: UK, Ireland, Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Denmark.

2. The largest populations of wolves in Europe are in Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Spain, Ukraine, Macedonia and Albania.

3. The “Alpine arc” belongs to eight different countries: France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia.

4. WWF and its partners are working to reduce conflict with wolves by: helping with the training and introduction of large dog breeds and donkeys to protect sheep against wolf attacks (France, Italy, Switzerland); testing of electric fences to keep wolves away from livestock (Switzerland); promoting educational courses for farmers and shepherds on measures to reduce conflict with wolves (Switzerland); providing information for hikers and tourists on how to behave if a guard dog is encountered, and gaining public support by explaining the “job” of these dogs (Switzerland); initiating discussions on game management (Austria, Switzerland); and promoting public awareness to gain support for the presence of large carnivores (Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland).


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