Local authorities in the Dutch province of Gelderland have proposed a novel way of protecting the public from a local wolf pack. To discourage the animals from coming too close to human visitors, rangers in the Hoge Veluwe National Park will be permitted to shoot them with paintballs. Yes, you read that right.
The move comes after this Tweet was widely shared. The video shows a wolf strolling casually past a family with young children, at an unnervingly close distance.
This fearless behavior around people is pretty out of character for wolves in general, and it’s not completely clear why these particular wolves have become so tame.
The Faunabescherming animal protection association has accused park leaders of deliberately feeding the wolves. As chairman Niko Koffeman told local news station Omroep Gelderland, "If the Hoge Veluwe houses a wolf population that behaves significantly differently from all other wolves in the Netherlands and neighboring countries, then there is a very suspicious situation."
The director of Hoge Veluwe National Park, Seger Emmanuel baron van Voorst tot Voorst, has denied allegations that wolves have been encouraged to mix with humans. He previously told DutchNews that wolves should be stripped of their protected species status so that more direct means could be used to control their numbers.
To be clear, the current proposal to bring out the paintball guns has been designed to scare the wolves, not to hurt them. Only park rangers will be allowed to use the guns, and it is hoped that it will encourage the wolves to stay at least 30 meters (100 feet) away from people. The use of paintballs means that it will be easy to see which wolves have already been targeted.
It's not just humans who might be at risk from an unmanaged wolf population. Hoge Veluwe officials have expressed concern about the impact on other species on the park, particularly a type of wild sheep called mouflons.
Mouflons are grazers, and they make an important contribution to the biodiversity and landscape of the park. If mouflons are lost to predation from wolves, this could have a knock-on impact on other wildlife, including species of birds, reptiles, and insects. The other large game animals in the park, such as roe deer, do not have the same diet as the mouflons and thus cannot fulfill their unique role.
It remains to be seen whether the colorful new approach will be a success, and whether the wolves will start to give people a wider berth. According to a report published in June 2022, wolf numbers in the Netherlands are increasing, and regional newspaper De Stentor has reported that 13 wolf cubs were born in the Hoge Veluwe National Park this year, so this issue is unlikely to be going away any time soon.
In this latest chapter in the age-old story of wolf-human coexistence, one thing remains clear. The International Wolf Center puts it best: “Wolves spark intense emotions.”