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Wolves at national park can be shot with paintball guns to be scared off, Dutch court rules

Dutch authorities will be allowed to use paintball guns to scare off wolves at a popular national park, a court ruled.
Dutch authorities will be allowed to use paintball guns to scare off wolves at a popular national park, a court ruled. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Angela Symons with AP
Published on Updated
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Wolves at a popular national park have been approaching human visitors more frequently.

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Dutch authorities will be allowed to use paintball guns to shoot at wolves at a popular national park to scare them off after at least one of the animals begins approaching visitors, a court ruled on Wednesday.

Wolves are currently protected animals in the Netherlands and cannot legally be hunted. 

But authorities in the eastern province of Gelderland suggested that wolves at the Hoge Veluwe National Park be kept at a distance from humans visiting the popular spot using paintball guns.

In its ruling, the Central Netherlands District Court said that a female wolf at the park had been spotted approaching walkers and cyclists, displaying what it called “unnatural behaviour.” An expert heard by the court said that the wolf was becoming “increasingly bolder” and posed a threat to public safety.

A European wolf is pictured in a wildlife park in Hanau, Germany.
A European wolf is pictured in a wildlife park in Hanau, Germany.Michael Probst/AP

It wasn’t immediately clear when authorities would begin using paintball guns to target wolves in the park.

Wolf protections are under scrutiny in Europe

Wolves have recently become the subject of heated debate in several countries in Europe where the animals have had a resurgence.

Two centuries after wolves were hunted to extinction in the Netherlands, the animals returned to the country after a pair crossed the border from Germany and gave birth to three cubs on Dutch soil.

Experts and environmental groups estimate that up to 19,000 wolves may be present in the 27 EU member countries, with populations of more than 1,000 thought to exist in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Spain.

In light of the increased presence of wolves in European countries, the European Union suggested a review of the protection status of the animal.

In December, the European Commission proposed a lighter protection for the wolf’s growing population, suggesting downgrading its protection status from “strictly” to “merely” protected.

In the same month, Estonia started its annual cull of its wolf population, setting the cull quota at 144, citing there are more animals than the country's conservation plans permit.

Are wolves becoming bolder in the Netherlands?

Hoge Veluwe National Park is a popular destination for hikers and bicycle riders and also is home to a world-renowned art gallery, the Kröller-Müller Museum. Animals including deer, mouflon sheep and wild boars live in the park and have been repeatedly attacked by wolves in recent years.

The park recently posted footage on Instagram that it said showed a confrontation between two packs of wolves - one inside the fenced-off park and another outside.

An expert who gave evidence on behalf of the province said that the female wolf's behaviour “poses a serious threat to public safety", the court said in a statement.

"The fact that the wolf seems to be less and less afraid of people does not mean that the animal can no longer become aggressive and bite," it added.

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