Dutch authorities can shoot “deviant” wolves that could pose a danger to the public with paintball guns, a court has ruled, as debate rages in Europe over protecting the animals.
After a lengthy legal battle, the court in Utrecht, central Netherlands, decided on Wednesday that the behaviour of some of the wolves in a national park was “a serious threat to public safety”.
One female wolf was known to approach cyclists and walkers and show no fear when photographers moved close to her, the court said.
“The fact that the wolf seems to be less and less afraid of people does not mean that the animal can no longer become aggressive and bite,” the court said in its ruling.
Other methods of scaring off the wolves at De Hoge Veluwe national park, such as shouting, had been ineffective, the court noted, and pepper spray was deemed dangerous for the animals. “There is no other satisfactory solution than shooting the wolf with a paintball gun and … it is necessary in the interest of public safety,” said the court.
The decision came as Europe grapples with its wolf population, which has bounced back from near extinction.
The European Commission said in December it wanted to change the animals’ protected status – allowing them to be hunted – after data showed they were posing a rising threat to livestock.
Brussels is asking EU member countries to revise the protection status for wolves from “strictly protected” to just “protected”, which would authorise them to be hunted under strict regulation.
The commission estimates there are about 20,300 wolves across the EU, and says that “damage to livestock has increased as the wolf population has grown”.
A commission study said wolves had killed at least 65,000 head of livestock in the EU each year: sheep and goats in 73% of cases, cattle in 19%, and horses and donkeys in 6% of cases.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, lost her beloved elderly pony, Dolly, last September to a wolf that got into its enclosure on her family’s rural property in northern Germany.