November 22, 2005

Swiss hit by WWF over call for Europe wolf hunts

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - The international conservation body WWF
on Wednesday accused Switzerland of undermining hopes for the
return of wolf populations in western Europe with a proposal to
allow some hunting of the animals.

WWF said the proposal -- filed for a meeting of the 1979
Berne Convention on protecting wildlife to be held at the
Council of Europe in Strasbourg next week -- was "unacceptable
and irresponsible."

"It is incredible that Switzerland, with a wolf population
of two or three individuals, has the audacity to ask the
Council of Europe to allow hunting," said Joanna
Schoenenberger, a specialist in the WWF's European Alpine

Swiss officials said what they sought was a change in the
wolf's status under the Convention from "strictly protected" to
"protected," like the lynx, thus allowing controlled culling in
order to maintain a manageable population level.

"The aim is to limit the scope for conflict with mountain
farming," said one government official.

Wolves were driven to extinction throughout most of western
Europe by the start of the 20th century, largely by hunting and
the expansion of human settlements and upland farming into
areas in which they had ranged free.


But over the past few decades, partly as a result of the
Berne Convention, some have returned to the Alps -- stretching
from France across northern Italy and Switzerland to Austria --
with the help of conservationists.

Single animals came back to Switzerland from Italy in 1995.

"But none of these individuals have reproduced. Any culling
in the Alps would be a disaster for the wolf population here,"

the WWF's Schoenenberger said in a statement.

The Strasbourg meeting, on November 28 and December 1, is a
session of the Standing Committee of the Berne Convention,
named for the Swiss capital where it was signed and aimed at
preserving European wildlife and its natural habitat.

The Council of Europe, which links countries inside and
outside the European Union in the west and east of the
continent, supervises implementation of the Convention.

Swiss officials argue that the wolf population presents a
threat to local communities in mountain areas and to their
livestock, especially sheep.

Farmers often blame wolves for the loss of sheep. But the
WWF, formerly known as the World Wide Fund for Nature, says
dogs are usually the killers.