Flanders has a complicated relationship with wild wolves, of which the pack size is growing. It is now looking to The Netherlands for inspiration to curb this issue, including rolling out paintball guns to shoot the animals with.
In the National Park of the Hoge Veluwe in Dutch Gelderland, several wolves were showing "unnatural behaviour" and coming too close to people, resulting in the park deciding supervisors of the province are now allowed to shoot "problematic wolves" with paintball guns to avoid dangerous situations. The Flemish Forest and Nature Agency also has a paintball gun ready.
"By hitting it with paintball bullets, the wolf is going to re-associate people with danger: a paintball hitting the wolf is not going to injure the animal but it is going to give it a pain stimulus," Dries Gorissen, wolf policy coordinator, told Het Belang van Limburg.
"In our opinion, this is a very good measure to teach the young animal to be scared of humans. The unnatural behaviour may still be solved this way," he added.
Earlier this year, the Dutch National Park announced that wolves had returned to the area, killing a lot of mouflons, red deer, roe deer and wild boar, and posing "some serious dilemmas regarding wildlife management, economic damage, habitat and species protection, and visitor expectations."
The park has now resolved to take more drastic measures and shoot the animals with dye balls, which are biodegradable. The measure has come under scrutiny from various animal rights groups, including "House of Animals," which said that wolves are protected species and "should be left alone."
Seger van Voorst, park director of the National Park, has argued that "gauze-clipping vandals" illegally brought the wolf to the park. However, according to Niko Koffeman of the Dutch organisation De Faunabescherming, he is deliberately out to create a "problem wolf" so more drastic measures can be taken against the animals.
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De Faunabescherming foundation filed a complaint against the management of De Hoge Veluwe, alleging that the National Park failed to fulfil its duty of care for a protected wildlife species, which it argued became tame at the hand of people, who feed them or come too close to get pictures.
Despite this criticism, Flanders is still considering the measure. "We keep in touch with the people who coordinate the wolf policy on the Veluwe. The experience they are now gaining with the paintball measure is also useful for us," Gorissen noted.
However, the Institute for Nature and Forest Research (INBO) stresses that there is currently no reason to shoot wolves with paintballs in Flanders. "The wolves of the pack still appear to be very timid," spokesperson Koen Van Muylem said.