Large predators are returning to Europe in numbers high enough to be prompting concern and even direct action among affected people.
The growth in populations of animals such as wolves and lynxes, which were previously hunted to the brink of extinction, is the result of decisions made by politicians and steps taken by conservation workers and other organisations.
Many of these will welcome the rising numbers, but not everyone is happy.
Czesław Adam Siekierski, a Polish MEP who sits on the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, is among those who are questioning the desirability of the changing situation.
“Certain species designated as requiring special protection have reached a good level of conservation. A case in point are wolves, whose European-wide population has been re-established,” Siekierski wrote in a query he has submitted to the EU’s implementing body, the European Commission.
“As a result, a conflict of coexistence has evolved between domestic animals and large carnivores, which threatens in particular the existence of those animals kept in pasture and open grazing systems in mountainous and sparsely populated regions.”
Siekierski has asked the Commission what steps it plans to take to protect the sustainable development of rural areas and agriculture in response to the growing number of predators.
His concerns come as the ONCFS, France’s National Office of Hunting
and Wildlife, announced in December that France’s wolf population would probably exceed 500 animals this winter, and said that wolves have been exploring new territories in the country.
Five hundred wolves is thought to be the minimum needed for a viable population, according to the ONCFS. Encouraging the population to reach this milestone is a government target, but it was not expected to be reached until 2023.
The ONCFS said that France’s national plan for wolf management will be reviewed once the population goal is reached. It said that the arrival of wolves in a new territory is “particularly sensitive in view of potential damage to livestock”, and that local authorities are warned when this happens so that people can take measures to limit the wolves’ impacts.
But some farmers in France and Italy have begun hunting and killing wolves to protect their livestock, ABC news reported. It said that in Italy, local councils have introduced bylaws to permit such actions.
Wolves are also returning to German regions they have not set foot in for a long time. On 7 January, the state administration of Lichtenstein announced that a camera trap had identified “the first verified proof” of at least one wolf being present in the region.
“A few hundred meters from the location of the wild animal camera, a dead piece of deer was found,” the administration said. It added that it might be possible to use DNA traces to identify where the wolf had come from.
Such tracking and tracing will become increasingly important if Europe’s predator populations continue to grow.