German cabinet approves bill to shoot protected wolves

Until 20 years ago, wolves had been wiped out in Germany. The population is growing again. When can farmers shoot them? And how can they be protected? The government has come up with new rules.

The German cabinet on Wednesday approved a controversial bill paving the way for farmers to shoot more protected wolves.

Nature and Environment | 28.11.2018

The bill was passed following a year-long debate between Environment Minister Svenja Schulze and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner over how to balance the interests of wolf protection and addressing farmers' complaints.

Read more: Wolves and humans, a difficult relationship

The compromise will "enable the co-existence of wolves and animal husbandry in Germany," Schulze said. "Where there is a problem, we are addressing it. And where there is none, the protection of animals will continue."

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The Federal Association of Shepherds welcomed the move, but environmental organizations voiced criticism.

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Can wolves and humans coexist in Germany?

What does the bill allow? 

If passed through parliament, the bill will allow wolves to be shot if they cause "serious damage" to livestock farmers.

Previously, the livelihood of farmers had to be threatened in order to receive approval to shoot wolves.

Among other things, the draft stipulates that wolves may be shot after an attack on a farming animal, even if it is not clear which animal carried out the attack.

The culling can continue until there are no further attacks. This means that a whole wolf pack could be shot.

However, state authorities must approve each shooting on an individual basis.

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Also allowed to be shot are hybrids of wolf and dog. The feeding and luring of wolves is also expressly forbidden, because this could encourage them to get used to humans.

Klöckner had advocated for the establishment of wolf-free zones, but Schulze refused the idea on the grounds that it would be contrary to German, European and international animal protection laws.

Read more: Can we really live with wolves?

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

Wolves have returned to Germany. And they polarize society: Some people would rather shoot them, others want to keep them safe at any cost. How we see wolves is influenced by literature and art — where the "big bad wolf" has frightened people for many centuries.

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

Never trust a wolf

The wolf in the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood" outsmarts the red hooded girl on her way to visit her sick grandma. The animal sends her to pick flowers so it can run ahead, devour the grandmother and lie in wait for the unsuspecting girl in the woman's bed. When the child finally reaches grandma's house, she is surprised by the old lady's looks, but doesn't make the obvious connection.

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

'What a big mouth you have'

Grandma might seem odd to the girl, but she doesn't have much time to think about it, because the wolf devours her, too. Luckily, a hunter is nearby. He cuts open the sleeping wolf's belly, and both grandma and the little girl jump out, safe and sound. The wolf is stuffed with heavy stones, wakes up, collapses and dies.

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

The wolf always dies in the end

Johann Wolfgang Goethe's epic poem "Reynard the Fox" also ends with the wolf's death. The tale goes back to a medieval fable. Reynard the fox manages to defeat all of his animal foes, even the wolf Isegrim, who is actually stronger. As a result, the clever fox is appointed chancellor of the animal kingdom by the lion king.

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

A killer transformed into a wolf

Ovid's poem "Metamorphoses" inspired numerous artists. The above 1589 copperplate engraving "Zeus Turning Lycaon into a Wolf" is from the workshop of Hendrick Goltzius. In Greek mythology, Lycaon drew Zeus' ire because he served him human flesh to test him. Zeus, king of the gods, turned him into a wolf in return, arguing that the transformation would allow Lycaon to indulge in his lust to kill.

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

Hunting the wolf

"The Wolf Hunt" by Willem van der Leeuw is another example of a popular copperplate engraving, a copy of a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish painter who masterfully depicted motion in his works. In the Baroque era, such reproductions sold well and were made in large numbers. They also served as a form of advertisement for the artist and his workshop.

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

An unfounded fear

The exhibition displays more than 30 artworks showing wolves. The images from 16th through the 19th centuries generally portray wolves as aggressive and out for blood, establishing the grim image we still have of wolves today. That fear is unfounded, as wolves are hardly dangerous to people. There hasn't been a single attack on humans in the almost 20 years since wolves resettled in Germany.

The wolf in myths and fairy tales

A famous she-wolf

Rome's foundation myth includes not a big bad wolf, but a good-natured one — the she-wolf that rescued and nursed the abandoned twins Romulus and Remus. In another version of the story, the term "lupa," or wolf, does not refer to a she-wolf at all: it's rather the slang word for prostitute.

Environmentalists alarmed 

The environmental organization BUND criticized the bill as an "assault on animal protection rights."

BUND expert Olaf Bandt expressed concern that a single suspected wolf attack on an animal will enable the killing of an entire pack.

He also warned that provisions of the bill open a "backdoor" for weakening the protection of other wildlife such as kingfisher, cranes and otters.

Wolves were hunted and driven out of Germany decades ago, but have made a comeback in recent years. There are about 400 wolves in Germany, according to the Environment Ministry. Most are spread across the east and north of the country.

Knut the baby polar bear (AP/Archiv Zoo Berlin)

Germany's most famous animals

Knut the baby polar bear

Perhaps the most famous of all German celebrity animals is the polar bear Knut. Born in 2006, Knut was rejected by his mother and had to be hand-reared by zookeepers. He brought the Berlin Tierpark zoo widespread media attention and even appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. However, Knut died from a suspected brain tumor in 2011.

Germany's most famous animals

Heidi the cross-eyed opossum

The internet era might help explain the popularity of Heidi the cross-eyed opossum, who won an army of fans after she was featured on a local television clip that went viral. Heidi's distinctive eye condition was thought to be due to fatty deposits behind her eyes. At the time Heidi was euthanized because of old age in 2011, she had three times more Facebook fans than Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany's most famous animals

Tuffi the tumbling elephant

Back in the 1950s, Tuffi the elephant became an overnight star. As a marketing ruse, a circus boss put the four-year-old pachyderm on a wagon of the overhead monorail in the city of Wuppertal. The animal panicked and bolted as the wagon moved, falling some 12 meters (40 feet) into the river Wupper. The incident is remembered here in a mural by the river. Tuffi lived on for decades, until 1989.

Germany's most famous animals

Bulette the Berlin hippo

Bulette became a popular attraction at the Berlin Zoological Garden, living to the ripe old age of 53. That made her Europe’s oldest hippo at the time she died in 2005, living a life 30 or 40 years longer than would be the case in the wild. Admittedly, she came from good stock. Her father Knautschke was the only large animal from the zoo to survive World War Two.

Paul the octopus oracle predicting a World Cup game.

Germany's most famous animals

Paul the octopus oracle

Paul shot to fame during the 2006 South Africa World Cup after correctly "predicting" the outcome of several Germany matches, as well as the final. Paul would be offered boxes containing tasty morsels and flags of the competing teams. When the clairvoyant cephalopod rightly indicated that Germany would lose to Spain in the semifinals, he was subject to death threats. Paul died later the same year.

Germany's most famous animals

Bruno the problem bear

Brown bears haven't lived in the wild in Germany since 1835. Bruno made headlines in May 2006, after wandering from a north Italian nature reserve to Bavaria. Bruno caused a stir when he began searching for food around houses and appeared to have lost any fear of humans. He was shot by hunters after attempts to catch him failed. As the photo shows, Bruno was later stuffed and wound up in a museum.

Germany's most famous animals

Yvonne the runaway cow

Bavaria was also the setting for another animal drama in 2011, when six-year-old brown dairy cow Yvonne escaped from her farm. The national daily tabloid Bild posted a 10,000-euro ($14,000) reward for her safe return. She was eventually rounded up and taken home. According to authorities, Yvonne "apparently got tired of the loneliness" and jumped over a fence to join a group of farm cows.

cw/rt (AFP, dpa)

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