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Government gives green light to killing of protected predator

The Federal Environment Agency has given the go-ahead to kill a wolf in canton Valais. The species is protected under Swiss law, but an exception has been made because this wolf has been preying on livestock.

The Federal Environment Agency has given the go-ahead to kill a wolf in canton Valais, following a request from the cantonal authorities. The species is protected under Swiss law, but an exception has been made because this wolf has been preying on livestock.

The Federal Environment Agency approved a request by canton Valais to kill the wolf, after nine sheep were savaged last Sunday. Spokesman Rolf Wespe says this particular wolf has killed or wounded 271 sheep, and must therefore be destroyed.

He says this particular decision goes against federal law, under which the wolf is a protected species, but in certain cases such a move is necessary.

"We are trying to introduce the wolf again, but not under any conditions. We cannot only protect the wolf. We also have to look after the general environment. If the wolf is to be re-introduced into the wild in Switzerland, it has got to be educated to hunt only deer."

The wolf disappeared from Switzerland in the last century, after its forest habitat was destroyed. Now many of the forests are back, and Switzerland is trying to re-introduce these predators.

This scheme has proved successful with another predator, the lynx. The Federal Environment Agency estimates there are about 100 adult lynx living wild in Switzerland. For the most part, they feed only on deer and other small wild animals. Those that attacked livestock have also been destroyed.

According to Rolf Wespe, it is normally possible to establish if a particular lynx has turned to killing livestock instead of hunting wild prey. This is done by conducting the equivalent of forensic autopsies on the dead livestock.

"The evidence enables scientists to identify which individual animal is the culprit. In the case of lynx, the go-ahead is given to kill the animal once it has been ascertained that it has killed at least 15 sheep, the usual domestic prey of lynx."

It is thought wolves have killed around 300 sheep since last year. The Val d'Herens in the Evolene region has been the area with the most recent incidents. The wolf that killed sheep in the Val d'Herens is believed to have crossed into Switzerland from Italy.

So far, no decision has been made about how to kill wolves. Wildlife experts from the canton Valais favour "a clinical operation carried out by a game keeper," says the biologist for the cantonal hunting and fishing cantonal authority, Yves Crettenand.

"We can't afford to have a slow large-scale search, since a wolf can cover distances between 10 and 15 kilometres in just one night."

swissinfo with agencies

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