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Claims of increased wolf attacks in Slovakia divide opinion

November 17, 2022

Legislation protecting wolves in Slovakia was passed in 2021. But now some are calling for a change in the law because of an alleged rise in wolf attacks.

Eurasian wolf stands in tall grass in the High Tatra National Park, Slovakia
Protected by law: it has been illegal to hunt wolves in Slovakia since June 2021Image: Michaela Walch/imageBROKER/picture alliance

Juraj Lukac is a Slovak activist who has been fighting for the conservation of wolves for almost 50 years. His group, the WOLF Forest Protection Movement, began work in 1973, bringing together people from the eastern and northern regions of Slovakia who wanted to protect the country's forests and the rights of the animals living in them.

It was a long struggle, but the group finally saw its life's work bear fruit when a new law providing year-round protection for wolves in the Slovak Republic was passed in June 2021. The law has made it illegal to hunt wolves and has put an end to the regulation of the wolf population in Slovakia.

The reflection of the sky and clouds off Strbske tarn in the High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia
The Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus) can be found in Slovakia's High Tatra MountainsImage: Soňa Otajovicova

Before the law was passed, killing a wolf in Slovakia outside the provisions of the regulation was considered a crime of poaching. Now, it is considered a crime against the environment.

A little over a year after the law was passed, some farmers in Slovakia have voiced concern about alleged increases in wolf attacks on livestock.

EU ministers discuss wolf conservation

The farmers themselves don't want to talk to the media, but Agriculture Ministry State Secretary Martin Kovac raised their concerns at the informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Prague in September, saying wolves pose a threat to farmers' property and livestock.

"I think we should reflect on the current conservation legislation or think about changing the regulation. But monitoring is the most important thing: We need to know the numbers," he said.

Activists claim no evidence of rise in attacks

For lifelong animal rights activists such as Lukac, this was very painful to hear. He believes that the statement has little to do with the conservation of wolves: "It was just a political move," Lukac told DW.

"I think that the longer full protection lasts, the more people will see that wolves don't cause any damage and nothing bad is happening. But hunters just don't want that," he said.

Lukac rejects the claims, saying there is no evidence of an increase in wolf attacks.

No official figures available in Slovakia

Slovakia was not the only country to raise the issue of the protection of wolves in September. Austria, Romania, Lithuania, Finland and France also expressed concern about the impact of the animals. Agriculture Minister Norbert Totschnig said that Austria had seen a 230% increase in wolf attacks on livestock in the space of one year.

In Slovakia, the issue strongly divides representatives of the agricultural and environmental sectors. According to the Environment Ministry, there are no official figures showing an actual increase in the wolf population.

Austrian Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management Minister Totschnig
Totschnig said Austria had seen a 230% increase in wolf attacks on livestock in one yearImage: Michael Indra/SEPA.Media/IMAGO

"I don't agree that the legislation should be reviewed," Michal Kica, state secretary of the Environment Ministry, said in a media statement, "but we want to focus on better protecting rural areas and farms. We want to discuss what measures should be taken in order to improve livelihoods in rural areas. We already offer financial support to farmers in the form of various funds."

Slovakia monitoring the size of its wolf population

The State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic commissioned a monitoring project to determine the size of the country's wolf population in 2021. While Germany has reported an increase from 105 packs in 2018-19 to 157 in 2021-22, Slovakia does not yet have any official figures. The first monitoring project in Slovakia was carried out by the Czech Charles University in Prague, and its results are expected in the coming days.

There have been wolves in Central and Eastern Europe for many centuries, and most farmers in these countries are familiar with ways of protecting their property and livestock against wolf attacks.

Two wolves in a forest in Germany
Since wolves returned to Germany at the turn of the millennium, the population has grown steadily and extends across the countryImage: S. Meyers/blickwinkel/picture alliance

Wolves only returned to Germany at the turn of the millennium. Their return was followed by protests in the regions where the wolves settled, with farmers and hunters saying measures such as fences were not effective at protecting herds from wolves.

Dogs help protect against wolf attacks

Zoologist Jergus Tesak told DW that guard dogs have proved themselves to be Slovak farmers' best line of defense against wolf attacks. He noted that countries like Germany no longer practice traditional forms of sheep breeding.

"The sheep are usually left alone inside a fence, protected by an electric charge, but wolves usually know how to find their way around that," Tesak said. "If farmers used large guard dogs, such as the Slovak Cuvac, the sheep would be better protected." Tesak said the combination of electric fence and two or three guard dogs should discourage wolves from attacking livestock.

Coexistence is possible, conservationists say

Farmers and wolves have been foes since time immemorial, so it may come as a surprise to many that a symbiosis between farmers and wolves is possible.

"They help reduce damage to agricultural crops through predation pressure on ruminants," Kristina Bockova, spokesperson for the State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic, told DW. "They mainly hunt sick and weak animals, as well as wild animals infected by the currently widespread African plague," Bockova said.

European Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius
Sinkevicius said the commission would not change its approach to the conservation of large carnivores, including wolvesImage: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture alliance

Bockova said wolves were not only under threat from frequent poaching, but also from the fragmentation of the landscape and the loss of quiet zones with minimal human activity — both of which are crucial for the preservation of the wolf population.

EU defends its policy

For the moment, it seems that activists can rest easy on the matter of wolf conservation. The European Commission has defended its approach to the conservation of large carnivores. Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said current legislation "provides member states with adequate instruments, funds and tools to ensure that the conservation of protected large carnivores and the continuation of sustainable farming practices can go hand in hand."

Activist Juraj Lukac is certain that the Slovak law protecting wolves will not change anytime soon. "All of this hype about wolves is just fake," he said. "They did not harm anyone, and, since the European Commission had made a clear statement on the matter, the conservation of wolves is safe for now."

Edited by Aingeal Flanagan and Keno Verseck

A red-haired woman (Sona Otajovicova) stands beside a large shrub and smiles into the camera
Sona Otajovicova Bratislava-based Slovakia correspondent