Noëlla, a female wolf that has come to live in Limburg province with her mate August, has given birth to cubs, Flemish environment minister Zuhal Demir (N-VA) confirmed on Mother’s Day.
The size of her litter is not known.
For the supporters of the wolves, including the region’s government, there now begins a tense period when the measures taken to protect the wolves will be tested.
The point is to let Noëlla and her cubs escape the fate of her predecessor Naya, who gave birth in the province in April last year, only to disappear suddenly at the end of May, despite the vigilance of conservation organisation Natuurpunt and the government’s agency for nature and woodland.
No trace has ever been found of Naya or her cubs, and the generally accepted opinion is that they were killed by hunters. For wolves are not welcome neighbours in Limburg, particularly among sheep farmers – although figures were recently produced to show that more sheep are killed by family dogs on the loose than by wolves.
Now Noëlla has also been threatened; according to Jan Loos Welcome Wolf, of the committee formed to militate for the wolves’ presence, anonymous callers have promised to kill Noëlla if she is spotted in the wild.
Since the disappearance of Naya, minister Demir has taken steps to extend the safe ground set aside for her, by extending nature protection areas where hunting is not allowed, and including military domains where trespassing is forbidden.
But the protective measures are not complete, warned Loos.
“The minister is playing with fire, he told De Standaard. “In that safe area there are some private properties where hunters are allowed to hunt wild boar, and nothing prevents them from shooting wolves from that position. That cannot be controlled. I hope the minister sees that danger and issues a general ban on hunting.”
At Demir’s ministry, that did not seem to be on the agenda.
“I can understand that [Welcome Wolf] want the safe area to be even bigger, but the question is whether a hunter with evil intentions will let even a ban stop him,” a spokesperson said. “The minister has already made a considerable effort. The resting area has already been increased considerably.”
Noëlla will over the next few weeks move the cubs under cover of darkness from spot to spot within the territory she has marked out for herself, to avoid them being in danger. They are unlikely to break cover until after the summer.