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Activists fight to protect the wolf

Hunter or hunted?

(www.wwf.ch)

Environmental groups are calling on the Swiss government to retain the ban on hunting wolves.

The World Wide Fund for Nature and Pro Natura warn that if the ban is lifted, the animal will become extinct in Switzerland.

The two organisations have now handed in a 70,000-signature petition demanding that the wolf's "protected status" remains.

However, the campaign faces opposition from sheep farmers, who argue that wolves pose a threat to their livelihoods.

The campaigners are urging parliamentarians not to follow the lead of the Senate, which voted in favour of taking the wolf off the protected animals' list.

They argue that there is enough space for the animal in Switzerland and say they are fighting against the "extermination of the wolf with the authorities' blessing".

Urs Tester from Pro Natura told swissinfo that support for the petition has been strong because people in Switzerland do not want the wolf to disappear or become extinct.

Farmers up in arms

As a protected species, the government is obliged under international law to ensure its safety. But many Swiss farmers accuse the wolf of wreaking havoc on their livestock.

Farmers already receive some protection under the "Swiss Wolf Project", which allows the killing of a wolf once it has killed more than 25 livestock in one month or 50 in four months.

Authorities in the south-western canton of Valais say a wolf attacked and killed 26 sheep last month. Permission has been granted to shoot the predator.

Eight wolves, which crossed from neighbouring Italy, have been sighted in Switzerland over the past few years.

Better protection for all

Tester believes that keeping the status quo would work to both the wolf and farmer's advantage.

If the House of Representatives decides this autumn to no longer protect the wolf, he points out that farmers would no longer receive government compensation for any losses.

"The petition protects farmers and their livestock as well as the wolf," explains Tester.

"The damage caused to livestock would continue to happen if the wolf is not protected. A lot of sheep are killed because they are left alone in the Alps for days - even for weeks."

Pro Natura and the WWF say they are offering to help farmers improve the protection of their flock, using guard dogs and shepherds. But they continue to face opposition from farmers.

"At present, most farmers are not interested guarding their sheep and now is the time to discuss real solutions and not fight against the wolf," says Tester.

by MaryAnn Mathew and Samantha Tonkin

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