What field studies deer

Life with the wolf

WWF Austria - species protection, nature protection, climate protection
    Many myths weaken acceptance
    Intensive persecution, habitat destruction and the decline in its prey animals caused the wolf to be exterminated in Western Europe and even in Scandinavia as early as the middle of the 19th century. Thanks to strict EU nature conservation laws, he returned, so that today there are again around 12,000 wolves across Europe. In Austria, too, individual wolves have been sighted time and again in recent years, immigrating from neighboring countries.

    The myth of the wolf

    There are still many myths surrounding the wolf that weaken its acceptance among the population. Contrary to popular belief, the wolf, for example, does not prefer sheep and goats as prey, but mainly hunts wild animals such as roe deer, wild boar and deer. Field studies have shown that wolves mainly prey on young, weak or old animals. Domestic animals mainly hunt wolves when they are unprotected. Targeted herd protection measures such as fencing, hosting or the use of livestock protection dogs usually provide a remedy here.

    Wolves also do not kill out of "pure lust for murder", Animals were observed that also returned to a deer that had been killed the day before in order to continue to eat on the carcass. The killing of several animals at once is rare and can only be observed when the prey does not flee. This strategy is followed, for example, by sheep, which form a dense group in case of danger and stay where they are. Accustomed to fleeing wild animals and food shortages in nature, wolves then kill more sheep than they can eat at one time.

    Wolf opponents often argue that you have to shoot wolves in order to reduce the number of sheep killed. Exactly the opposite is the case, however: shooting as a management measure to protect herds has proven counterproductive. This is shown by a US study by Washington State University (2014): The more individual wolves are killed, the more herd animals fall victim to the predators in the following year. Such interventions destroyed the otherwise well-functioning structure in wolf families. The shooting of a parent animal can lead to wolves changing their hunting behavior and, due to the lack of experience, having to switch to animals that are easier to capture, such as unprotected sheep. In our neighboring country Slovenia, with an estimated population of 50 wolves, experiences similar to those in the USA have been made. Instead of pushing for more kills, the focus is now on better protection of those pastures on which particularly much damage has occurred.

    The wolf is an asset to nature

    The return of the wolf has positive effects. Its presence has a positive effect on the health of the game population, for example. This is because the wolf keeps the wild animals - especially red deer, roe deer, wild boar or chamois - in good condition. In a forest where wolves hunt, sick or weak animals cannot survive long. Because these are less alert and easier to tear than healthy, nimble and defensive animals. In addition, wolves can smell sick animals before the disease becomes visible to humans. According to this, wolves, just like bears and lynxes, act as the “health police” of the forest because they remove sick wild animals from the stock much more efficiently than any avid hunter. With this ability, they help reduce the spread of disease among wildlife.

    If a wolf is regularly in the forest, there are bite-free areas. This is because the red deer, roe deer and chamois populations are unevenly distributed in the forest when they flee from predators. This creates large bite-free areas on which even sensitive tree species such as the fir tree, which has been decimated in Austria, can naturally rejuvenate. The regular presence of the wolf thus influences the condition of the forest.

    A peaceful coexistence is possible

    In Austria we have to learn how to live together with wolves again. Good management creates the prerequisites for this: The WWF advocates a management system that takes into account both the interests of those affected and the ecological challenges.

    There is no getting around herd protection measures for grazing animals. Depending on the species, housing conditions, terrain and other factors, it may be sufficient to work with electric fences or with “watchdogs” such as donkeys or llamas. If you decide on herd guard dogs, the number depends on the size of the herd to be protected and the area. In Switzerland, as well as in France and Italy, there have already been good experiences with herd protection projects. It is now important to implement the knowledge gained in this country and to establish herd protection throughout Austria. A first step in this direction is the “model project herd protection” which has been supervised by the national advice center for herd protection on the Ochsenalm in Kals am Großglockner since 2014. Different concepts for protecting herds of livestock from large predators are being tested in practice for their applicability in the Austrian Alps.

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