Huffing and puffing
A growing wolf population presents German politicians with a conundrum

Sheep are under attack; “wolf commissioners” are one answer


IN THE 20th century the wolves that populated German fairy tales—such as “Little Red Riding Hood”, published by the Grimm brothers in 1812—were an anachronism. Hunters had wiped them out over the course of the 19th century; the last was killed in 1904. For decades the animals were confined to Europe’s east. Then came the end of the cold war, improved forest conservation standards, tighter rules on hunting, and the demilitarisation of border zones. Grey wolves started moving west, crossing from Poland into Germany around the turn of the millennium.

Their numbers are rising. In 2017 alone the number of documented packs in Germany rose from 47 to 60, putting the total count of wolves at around 400. Farmers reckon the true figure is over 1,000. Once concentrated in the north-east, attacks on livestock are spreading. In Lower Saxony, a western state with many sheep, a survey by the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, a newspaper, suggested the number of farm animals killed by wolves rose from 178 to 403 last year.

What to do? The question pits Germany’s farmers and the political right (particularly the far-right Alternative for Germany and the pro-business Free Democrats) against the country’s mighty conservationist movement and the left. The former want culls of the wolves; the latter emphasise better protection for livestock and resettlement of problematic packs. On March 11th farmers held a series of “wolf watches”: bonfires lit to ward off the animals and in protest at hunting restrictions. On May 5th some 300 animal-rights campaigners demonstrated outside the Reichstag in Berlin. The influential Bild newspaper has backed the farmers, warning that wolves could kill children.

As part of their coalition talks in February, the centre-right Christian Democrats and centre-left Social Democrats agreed that farmers should be allowed to kill wolves—but only as a last resort. New guidelines on hunting regulations are to be released and local authorities are encouraged to adopt non-lethal methods: installing electric fences; hiring “wolf commissioners” to monitor numbers, support farmers and educate citizens; and even, under one proposal, giving the wolves contraception. Germany is turning its characteristic knack for compromise to the feared beasts from the forests.

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