The wolf causes many casualties among Dutch livestock, but hunting for this animal is prohibited because it is a protected species. Behavioral biologist Diederik van Liere developed three alternatives. “You can teach the wolf to stay away from the sheep.”
Van Liere works for the Wildlife Coexistence Institute, an organization that provides sustainable, animal-friendly solutions to nature’s problems. He looks with concern at the developments in the Netherlands.
“Emotions are running high now,” Van Lier says. “I think it’s horrific for farmers who are unable to protect their sheep. And that’s exactly why I think it’s so important to do more research into how wolves work.” One of the methods he devised was to make mutton poisonous.
“If you have a carcass, you inject a toxin into it and put it near the area. Once the wolf eats it, it gets very upset and doesn’t risk taking it to its young. Connecting with this bad experience will make it kill fewer sheep and it will teach its young also to avoid sheep.”
Learn a different diet
Van Lier says you can solve a lot with the help of the wolf’s parents. “The cubs stay with their parents for 10 months, so there is a lot of things to manage at that time. The mother of the cubs from Drenthe Barnstorfrudel taught her cubs that sheep and cattle are food. But there are also groups that have learned to feed deer. Or hunt beavers.”
He explains that this works in wolves just as it does in humans. “We don’t immediately recognize dandelions as food in Holland, but in Slovenia they put them in salads. We have to see the best solution for each wolf pack.”
Van Liere thinks it’s a shame that we are currently still looking for solutions from a limited perspective. “Currently we’re mainly working on measures like fencing. In the short term, this only works with naive wolves. Wolves that have experience chasing, biting and eating sheep won’t learn anything from them.”
“The motivated wolf will try to enter and then be finished. The fence works after that kill the surplus in hand. This means that they kill more than they need to for food.”
Another way to prevent wolves from hunting sheep is shock squad. It is already used in Slovenia and research on wolf adaptation is also being carried out in Belgium and France.
“If a wolf tries to bite a sheep to death wearing such a band, the wolf will receive a massive 5000-volt blow to the molars. Then the wolf will avoid biting the sheep, but also advises the rest of the herd to chase other food.”
Make sure the sheep can climb
The final way to save sheep from wolves, says Van Lier, is to look at “sheep” differently. “Because how have sheep survive all these years as a species? Because they can climb. They can actually defend themselves so well in an environment with such sharp differences in altitude.”
“So let’s give them the option of climbing a wall or reaching a plateau above the wolf. Now if you make a platform in the meadow with hay bales, the sheep can climb on it and the wolf is looking for the heavy sheep’s heads then it won’t rise, if possible.”
“We can’t do this”
Shock tyres, poisonous lamb and hay bundles in the meadow, are they practical? Diederik Sleurink, a breeder of 800 sheep, thinks Van Liere’s creative inventions are a good start. “But the Columbus egg isn’t there yet, as far as I’m concerned.”
He agrees with Van Leer that the current policy of the Dutch government places too much emphasis on supporting wolf-resistant networks. “If I had to work with those 1.20m nets, it would become impossible in terms of labor and costs. There is a limit to what you can ask ranchers as measures to protect their livestock. We simply cannot do that.”
There is no place for a wolf
But Slewrink prefers not to put up a fence either. “I myself am an ecological cattle farmer and care a lot about Frisian nature. Suppose everyone were to put a net to protect their cattle, the open landscape would go to hell. We shouldn’t want that.” Sleurink sees Veluwe as the only place where a wolf might have a place. “The Netherlands is also very small.”
That’s why Slyurinc hopes the current policy will be revised. “The Netherlands wants cows, sheep and horses in the meadow, and now the government says a wolf is suitable too. In this Friesland landscape, with 300,000 cows, 150,000 sheep and all that is a hobby of cattle, it is impossible. A disaster for this countryside if wolves come here. “.
However, behavioral biologist Van Liere believes that with more attention to the herd, an open landscape could be possible, even with room for a wolf. “There are quite a few wolves in our country that go unnoticed and do not kill sheep. In fact, they should have already started in Germany not to teach their parents their cubs about sheep and cattle.”
“We made mistakes there. But we can still start packing for the future. Let’s guide them well and re-educate them where possible. This way we invest in a new generation that can live together better with people. It is not so late yet.”