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‘Problem animals’: Why are wolves disappearing across Austria?

‘Problem animals’: Why are wolves disappearing across Austria?
Wolves are disappearing in Austria. Why? Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash
Despite numbers shrinking in recent years, some are arguing Austria has an issue with "problem wolves".

Wolves have made a comeback in Europe over the past decades. There are an estimated 17,000 across Europe. 

However, in Austria the numbers of wolves are shrinking. In 2020, there were believed to be 40 in 2020, down from 49 in the previous year, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. 

Where are Austria’s wolves? 

Wolves disappeared from Austria in 1882, after the last Austrian-born wolf was shot by hunters. Following this, wolf sightings were rare. However, in 2016, wolves returned to Austria with puppies being born again for the first time in more than a century, in the native pack in Allentsteig in Lower Austria.

After that, the number of wolf packs increased to three. In addition to the one in Allentsteig, there were others in Harmanschlag and Gutenbrunn (also in Lower Austria). Another pack was suspected to be in Vorderweissenbach in Upper Austria.

With numbers decreasing, could wolves could disappear from Austria again?

Austria is surrounded by countries with wolf populations. According to World Wildlife Fund wolf expert Christian Pichler, there are more than 100 in Slovenia and Switzerland, 400 to 500 in Germany and 1,000 to 2,000 in Italy. Across Europe there are around 17,000. “Austria will never become wolf-free,” he says, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

Austria’s Agricultural Councillor Josef Geisler agrees, and claims that in nearby Italian Trentino, around 100 young wolves are born every year. 

READ MORE: Seven hazards to avoid when you’re outside in Austria

Are people shooting wolves?

While wolves are a protected species, it is believed some farmers may have killed wolves. In 2019, for example, a dead wolf was found in Sellrain in Tyrol with its head cut off, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. 

Isn’t that illegal? 

According to Section 181f of the Criminal Code, killing protected animals in Austria can result in up to two years imprisonment.

Why don’t farmers want wolves in Austria?

Newspapers report there have been an estimated 250 wolf attacks on sheep and goats last year in Austria

While environmentalists support the return of wolves, farmers say they are attacking their sheep and creating danger for hikers, often speaking of “problem wolves”.

Austria’s Agricultural Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP), says if no action is taken to control wolves in Tyrol, cultivation will cease in local alpine pastures, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. 

So what will happen now?

The Agriculture Minister has added her voice to Austria’s Agricultural Councillor Josef Geisler (ÖVP), and says it should be easier for farmers to shoot wolves. Geisler said earlier in the year that Austria should follow Finland’s example, where culling wolves is allowed, the Austrian press agency  APA reports. 

Most recently, the Tyrolean state parliament decided to change the Tyrolean Alpine Protection and Hunting Act to make it easier for the problem wolves to be removed.

Specifically, a five-member specialist board of trustees (“Wolf-Bear-Lynx”) is to decide independently how to deal with these animals. 

Are the rules around hunting wolves the same across Austria? 

There is no Austria-wide regulation, because wolves are classed as game, which falls into the areas of nature conservation and hunting and is therefore a matter for the federal states.

However, the state conference of agricultural experts recently decided to set up a working group on the subject of wolves: The legal framework for dealing with problem wolves is to be standardised and improved. Experts from the federal states are to define parameters for the designation of pasture protection areas.

What about the European Union?

The European Union does not want to change protection of wolves in Austria. Regional “wolf-free zones” are not possible, it said, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

According to the newspaper the EU recently assessed the conservation status of wolves in Austria as “unfavourable to bad”. However, in Finland, the protection of wolves has been downgraded in order to protect reindeer populations, according to the Austrian press agency APA.


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