Ursula von der Leyen was very “taken”, as she announced. In September 2022 a wolf tore her pony Dolly. Many farmers are also afraid for their animals. Frank Fass runs the Wolf Center in Dörverden (Lower Saxony) with his wife. Until 2018 he advised the Lower Saxony Ministry of the Environment on wolf management. In an interview, Fass explains why there should be more wolves in Germany and why the state should give shepherds more support.
Mr. Fass, many people are afraid of encountering a wolf. Is the fear justified?
It is not unlikely to encounter a wolf. Young animals in particular can be curious. But nobody needs to be afraid of the encounter. As long as people don’t run away from the wolf, it won’t get very close. If people run, the wolf may follow them. Since the 1950s there have only been 127 attacks on humans, 107 of them by rabid wolves. If a wolf attacks a human, it will of course be shot down.
Parents who are worried about their toddlers playing in the garden are unlikely to be reassured by the number of attacks. Any attack on one’s own child would be one too many – regardless of whether the wolf was rabid or not. What do you tell them?
I have a daughter myself and would never have forbidden her to play in the garden. I don’t think parents should worry too much. The probability that a wolf will attack your own child is negligible. It is not possible to protect children from all possible dangers. Just because there are more wolves again, nobody should change their behavior.
According to the Federal Environment Ministry, there are 161 wolf packs in Germany. The German Farmers’ Association estimates 1500-2700 animals. Is that too many?
No, there are even too few. In order for the wolf not to die out, more animals would be needed. The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation calculates how many wolves it would take for the species to be preserved in Germany. Accordingly, there are currently not enough animals.
Nevertheless, the wolf is no longer endangered in Germany, says the German Farmers’ Association.
For farmers, every wolf is one too many because it could kill a livestock. You are now an entrepreneur. The wolf is one of many economic risks that you must consider in your planning. I grew up around the dairy farms and of course I emotionally understand the attitude of the association. But looking at nature, the setting doesn’t make sense.
Wild encounter: correct behavior towards wild animals
If you suddenly come across a wild boar or even a wolf while walking in the forest, the shock is great. But running away is not a good idea. So what to do?
Aren’t the farmers’ fears justified anyway?
The farmers’ concern for their animals is of course plausible. But we have to decide whether we want species protection or not. As long as the wolf lives here, grazing animals are occasionally killed.
Many farmers are demanding that wolves be shot more often. Fewer wolves would kill fewer grazing animals. Wouldn’t that be a good solution?
I’m tired of this discussion. Even if we shot 10 percent of the animals, the other 90 percent would still kill grazers. There is no getting around the fact that the farmers fence in their animals.
Can all farmers afford the expensive electric fences?
The state should give much more support to professional shepherds. The state is currently paying for material costs for fences. But if shepherds have to borrow a tractor with a ram and staff to set it up, they pay for it themselves. The shepherds also have to pay for the food for livestock guard dogs in full themselves. Not all commercial animal owners can therefore protect themselves well from the wolf. Therefore, the state should show more responsibility.
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The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation recommends 1.20 meter high fences. However, wolves can jump more than three meters high. Isn’t the recommendation way too low?
Wolves only very rarely jump higher than 1.20 meters, this has been very well researched. The animals are extremely careful. More important than the height is that the fences are deep enough to prevent wolves from burrowing under. Unfortunately, many farmers and shepherds do not set up the wolf fences correctly. Especially some hobby shepherds invite the wolf with their bad fences to tear down their animals.
Some animal keepers call for animals to be shot when they approach a herd. They argue that the other animals in the pack would learn from this and stay away from animal herds. What do you think?
Such a precautionary launch would be completely ineffective. In Lower Saxony, where I live, there is a herd of animals on every corner. They can’t all be guarded with guns drawn all the time. You can twist and turn the tide as you want – it needs more fences.
Expensive fences, fear for animals and children – wouldn’t people be better off without the wolf?
Then we can stop protecting species right away. The return of the wolf is very fortunate: it has resettled here all by itself, without anyone having released it into the wild. Just because the wolf is causing conflict now doesn’t mean it should be eradicated. Germany is one of the richest countries in the world, so environmental protection should not fail because of money.
Species protection always sounds good at first: bees, for example, should be preserved so that they pollinate plants that people eat. But the wolf does not benefit man in a similar way.
Wolves help hunters by killing deer and wild boar. If there were too many wild boars, they would cause a lot of damage in the fields. Deer can cause a lot of damage in the forest if there are too many. In addition, nature is valuable regardless of how humans can use it. What would the world be without colorful butterflies, bumblebees and salamanders?