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Iberian wolf in Lugo, Spain
Iberian wolf in Lugo, Spain
Julie Farrar

“Wolves are not killed because they are grey, but because they eat sheep.” (Russian proverb)

Who’s afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf? Well, as it turns out, more than just the shepherds whose flocks get devoured. In European culture, there is a deep-rooted negative image of the wolf, based on fear of attacks on humans — thanks to well-known children’s stories — combined with the loss of livestock, and therefore livelihood, to wolf depredation.

And over the past decade, as the number of members of the species has increased, humans are the ones on the attack.

In the central Italian city of Terni, a she-wolf was shot dead. This comes as in the coastal forest of Tuscany, eight wolves have been killed since November — three in the last week alone. In these most recent kills, two of which were wolf-dog hybrids, the animals had been tied up on a city street where they were beaten, shot and left abandoned as acts of "demonstrative warning," according to La Stampa.

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Giacomo Bottinelli of the Italian animal rights group LAV blamed sheep farmers and lax hunting regulations that he says "guarantee the impunity of dangerous criminals."

Meanwhile, in Tamins, Switzerland, a wolf was found dead this week, and it was determined that it had been shot two weeks earlier and left to succumb to a slow and painful death, reports24 Heures. “This situation surprised us completely, even if we knew the local population was concerned by the presence of the wolf pack in the area,” said State Councilor Mario Cavigelli. “Completely informing the population is our top priority. Wolves are not dangerous as long as we don’t feed them.”

Experts note that there are solutions to keep the animals at bay, e.g. the use of rubber bullets, flashing lights and even the presence of sheepdogs. It’s true that as predation grows, an open debate must take place — but funds are lacking and the shepherds need help.

Pets in the middle

In Germany, as elsewhere, it was believed that the species had been hunted to extinction more than a century ago. But over the past decade, wolves have returned, migrating back from Eastern Europe and reigniting ancient fears. German weekly Der Spiegelreports that researchers at the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research proved that livestock accounts for less than 1% of wolves' diets.

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The resurgence of the animals has caused anger amongst farmers, who declare that the wolves are not just eating their sheep and other livestock, but household pets as well.

"We're not against wolves, but we want them to stay on government-owned lands. When they leave these territories, we want to be able to shoot them," said Lutz-Uwe Kahn, of the Brandenburg Farmers Alliance, quoted in Der Tagesspiegel.

There is the fear that the wolves will attack humans but, as Werner Freund proved to VICE magazine, it is entirely possible to co-habitate with them. Freund, a former marine, has been living with wild wolves in Merzig, a small town near the French border, for the past 30 years. He firmly believes that wolves only attack when cornered, and that fairy tales have brought up to believe they are to be feared. “If we say that wolves shouldn’t live here,” he continues, “then we have no right to complain about the killing of elephants in Africa for ivory.”

While Freund’s view is certainly atypical, as very few people in the world have had similar experiences with the species as he has, Germany is not the only country that is experiencing a comeback from the creatures: After an absence of 70 years, they’re back in Spain’s Guadarrama mountains, just 65 kilometers from Madrid.

Over the past two months, writes The Guardian, around 100 sheep and cattle have been killed near Buitrago, in the northern foothills of the Guadarrama mountains, says Juan Carlos Blanco, a wolf specialist and adviser to the Spanish environment ministry.

"Guadarrama can support two, even three, packs. We think there are now six packs within 100 kilometers of Madrid. When they arrive in a new area the shepherds don't know what to do. Then they find ways to protect their flocks with dogs or fences. It's a natural event, and the wolf will not go away now," he says.

Blanco notes that even if hunters exterminate one pack, others will take its place. "Wolves, he said, "are very adaptable and resilient."

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