Netherlands: the wolf, a troublesome neighbor difficult to manage?

She sniffs at a fox hole, nuzzles it before huffing and disappearing into the night. This stealthy apparition was captured in March 2019 by a camera trap near the central city of Appeldoorn. The wolf, prosaically named by researchers GW998f (Gray Wolf 998 Female), had been roaming the sand dunes and wooded hills of the Veluwe, including the De Hoge Veluwe National Park, teeming with wild boar and deer, for six months. Which, for the scientists, made her a permanent resident. And so the first copy of kennel lupus to return to Holland for… one hundred and forty years.

Holland, a country too small to accommodate wolf packs?

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The news had the effect of a bombshell. Because, as in much of Western Europe, the wolf was exterminated in the country during the 19th century. “The question was not whether the predator would return, but when,” said Hugh Jansman, an ecologist at Wageningen University in Veluwe. With the number of wolves on the rise in the neighboring countries of Germany and Belgium, it was only a matter of time. As early as 2010, solitary individuals from Germany in search of mates were observed in the Netherlands. GW998f is also from there: DNA analysis of her droppings, among other things, revealed that she came from a pack in Brandenburg, 600 kilometers east of the Dutch border. She is one of the hundreds of wolves that every year move to the west of Belarus, Poland or Germany…

And this return to the lands from which their ancestors were eradicated triggers both the enthusiasm of nature conservationists and the concern of Dutch breeders. In the shade of the beeches in the Veluwe Forest, Hugh Jansman inspects a red deer carcass. The animal has bite marks near the carotid artery. The researcher takes tissue samples from the wound: they may contain traces of the predator’s saliva… And, therefore, its DNA, which could allow its identification. The verdict comes out a few days later: GW960f. A second female, also seen in 2019, in the national park. It’s now home to five eastern resident wolves, not counting GW998f’s pups, born in 2019, forming the country’s first pack. And other wolves, at least thirty between 2015 and 2021, enter and leave the country, particularly near the German and Belgian borders, in the provinces of Drenthe (northeast), Overijssel (east) and North Brabant (south). In early 2022, two or three new couples formed, reports Hugh Jansman. That suggests the birth of wolf pups… and therefore new packs this year.

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In De Hoge Veluwe National Park, it’s time to worry. The 5,400 hectares of forests, heather fields and dunes, once a sanctuary for wild boar, deer and mouflons, now provide excellent hunting ground for several resident wolves. For the park’s director, Seger Emmanuel Baron Van Voorst tot Voorst, the observation is clear: “This predator has no place in Holland”. According to him, the country is too small to accommodate packs and he has no experience in handling carnivores. because the return of kennel lupus it is accompanied by attacks on livestock: 25 in 2019, 66 in 2020. “Never have wolves settled in a country so densely populated by humans and herds,” explains ecologist Hugh Jansman. The predator’s promiscuity with humans seems much stronger there than anywhere else in Europe. The Dutch wolf plan is thus based on incident prevention, with subsidies for protection facilities, and compensation in the event of an attack, at the expense of the provinces.

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Learn to live with wolves again

Near the pleasant village of Elspeet, about forty kilometers north of the national park, volunteers from the Wolf-Fencing Nederland association are preparing to install an electrified fence around a small plot of land that will serve as a fence for a flock of sheep. A system proven in Sweden and Germany… as long as you make sure the fence is at least 1.20 meters high, otherwise the wolves will jump over it. And that there are electrified wires very close to the ground, otherwise they dig into the ground and pass underneath.

The Dutch preventive strategy could bear fruit… Only half of the farmers in question claimed the subsidies that would allow them to do the work. “Probably because problems are still infrequent,” says ecologist Hugh Jansman. “And equipping yourself requires work and investment, despite subsidies.” There is no doubt that Dutch farmers and herders have not been sufficiently sensitized or prepared, according to Max Rossberg, director of the European Wilderness Society, which, based in Austria, conducts training with breeders in his country, but also in Italy and Germany. He is convinced of this. “In a century and a half, they’ve forgotten how to live with this predator,” he says. “They have to work differently and relearn to live with it.”

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In the Netherlands, as elsewhere, “the future of the wolf will depend on public opinion”, believes Hugh Jansman. In a 2021 survey by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, 54% of respondents said they were in favor of returning kennel lupus in the national territory. Three points less than the year before, perhaps because the investigation took place shortly after a high-profile attack in the south of the country. “There’s no doubt that the wolf can adapt, but can the human being too?” asks Hugh Jansman. In the eyes of the scientist, the question is above all sociological and psychological. “It’s all about perception,” he concludes. Some people don’t want the wolf in their homes, but on holiday in the Alps they don’t mind its presence!” In Holland, to this day, the animal causes infinitely less damage than dogs or foxes (4,000 to 13,000 sheep attacked depending on the year) But the imagination remains stronger than anything, and that’s what continues to make headlines in the newspapers.

➤ Report published in the magazine August 2022 GEO (No. 522, Brittany)🇧🇷

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