Paintball to deter a wolf coming close to humans not an option in the Netherlands

A park in the Netherlands wanted to use paintball guns to deter a wolf coming close to humans. But a Court suspended the permission given by the province considering the justification lacked substance.

wolf in the Hoge Veluwe National Park
Wolf in the Hoge Veluwe National Park. Park management is forbidden to use paintballs to deter the wolf from getting contact with human. | © David Hup, Instagram

Central Netherlands District Court in Utrecht ruled on November 30 that shooting a wolf with a paintball gun to scare it off remains prohibited in the province of Gelderland.

Gelderland province on October 27th had yet granted such permission but the animal protection foundation Faunabescherming (Fauna Protection) filed a preliminary relief proceeding, a type of proceeding that gives a justice decision in a few weeks, in order to stop the Hoge Veluwe National Park from doing it.

A preventive suspension order had already been issued on November 16 waiting on the verdict.

With its 5,400 hectares (13,343 acres), the Hoge Veluwe National Park is one of the largest nature reserves in the Netherlands, where the Kröller-Müller museum, famous for the largest private Van Gogh collection in the world, is also located. According to the park figures, 500,000 people visited the place in 2020.

The issue started with a wolf that has been seen approaching humans closely on multiple occasions. Wolves are usually shy of humans and it’s unsure why they would come close. The park considers it has “deviant behavior” while the Fauna Protection claims it’s a young curious wolf. The wolf is thought to relate humans with the possibility of getting food.

Visitors and photographs have also flocked to the park to see a wolf in the wild.

The park management increased supervision to make sure animals are not fed and that visitors do not leave the paths and roads. With the paintball guns, it tried to deter the wolf so that it can stay away from people and stay with the pack of wolves in an area without people. It also applied for permission to capture or kill the pack of wolves in the park, which the province denied last week according to AD.

The presence of wolves in the Netherlands has been a cause for debate in Dutch society.

The Hoge Veluwe National Park is in favor of “controlled management of wolves throughout the Netherlands and of keeping them out of the park,” according to its website.

Wolves arrived and settled in the park in 2021 and kills mouflons, deer and wild boars. For the park, the wolf “disrupts the natural balance and causes a decline in biodiversity” because of a “drastic reduction in the number of grazers,” such as mouflons. It argues the Natura 2000 objectives with respect to protected species and habitats may become impossible in the park because of wolves.

The preliminary relief judge stayed out of the national debate on the presence of wolves in the Netherlands and acknowledged the park seeks to avoid incidents and potentially serious consequences for people.

But she also considered wolves to be protected animals and an “exemption to deliberately disturb the animal needs to be well founded.” And the judge considered the justification to use paintball on wolves was not sufficient.

Moreover, the judge considered the province authorities, which granted permission for all Gederland and not only to the park, has not evaluated carefully alternatives where the wolf, instead of people, is protected and suggested closing part of the park. This suggestion was given by Fauna Protection during the Court hearing.

Also, paintball guns have not been used before. It’s therefore unknown how much it hurts wolves, and whether paint marks will have consequences on the wolf with the pack.

The verdict can be appealed within four weeks.

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