It’s now legal for authorities in the Netherlands to shoot wolves with paintball guns, after a court ruling on Wednesday deemed it an appropriate measure to deal with “a serious threat to public safety”.
The move comes after wolves in Hoge Veluwe National Park, in the Gelderland province of the country, became increasingly less fearful of human visitors to the park. A widely shared video posted to X shows just how little fear the wolves have, strolling past a young family at a pant-poopingly close distance.
Though it would be easy to perceive this as friendly or unbothered behavior, the court ruling came with a reminder that wolves are still very much wild animals. “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,” The Guardian reports the ruling said.
According to the court proceedings, other attempts to scare off the wolves, such as shouting, haven’t worked, leaving park rangers with few options that also presented no harm to the animals. The idea of using paintball guns was first proposed in 2022, and if the new law aligns with that proposal, it’s only the park rangers who’ll be allowed to use the guns.
The benefits of the guns could be two-fold: it’s hoped that they will keep the wolves at least 30 meters (100 feet) away from people, but also make it easier to identify which wolves have already been hit and thus most prone to getting too close.
Although this unusual behavior appears to be isolated to this particular park for now, there's a concern that it could be seen elsewhere. Wolves have had one of the biggest comebacks seen in Europe (besides ABBA, that is), after intense hunting very nearly led to their extinction (not what happened to ABBA). Then, in the last 20 years or so, legal protections and habitat restoration saw wolf populations rapidly increase.
Though their flourishing has been welcomed by some, others aren’t quite so keen, namely because of the wolves seeing livestock as a tasty snack and, as witnessed in the Netherlands, getting a little too close to the locals.
As a result, some have called for the protection status of wolves to be reduced from “strictly protected” to “protected”, an option that is being explored by the European Commission. This has caused some concern over whether wolves could become persecuted once again, to which the organization stated: “The wolf will remain a protected species under both the EU and international legislation, and the obligation to achieve favourable conservation status will remain.”
That’s where this latest ruling fills in the gap, though only time will tell if the paintball gun measure will have a noticeable impact on the wolves' behavior.