Kill Them to Save Them

From Watts Up With That?

News Brief by Kip Hansen — 28 December 2022

Nature, that biological force that has been operating for a very long time creating and destroying flora and fauna for millennia, just keeps getting in the way of our puny human efforts to straighten her out and set her to rights.

In Lower Franconia, Bavaria, Germany, the wildlife authorities have decided that the pups whelped by a she-wolf after she mated with a domestic dog must be killed – hunted down and shot. 

Why in the world would they need to be hunted and killed? 

Welcome to the wild-wild-world of species protection. 

As we have seen in North America,  wolves have become the darling of endangered species regulations and restoration efforts.  A cute YouTube illustrates the tone of the movement.

The endangered or threaten species concept runs afoul of the Species Problem.  Of course, there are two distinct Species Problems: 

1) Darwin’s Problem:  “I was much struck how entirely vague and arbitrary is the distinction between species and varieties” — Charles DarwinOn the Origin of Species

2)  The Modern Species Problem:  “The species problem is the set of questions that arises when biologists attempt to define what a species is. Such a definition is called a species conceptthere are at least 26 recognized species concepts.”  [ source ]

In the United States, we can see this problem clearly in the protection of the Red Wolf.  It is well-known and widely acknowledged that the so-called Red Wolf of the Carolinas is a gray wolf-coyote hybrid – though it is possible/probable that it could Eastern Wolf-Coyote hybrid.  However, the Eastern Wolf itself has also been found to be a Gray Wolf-Coyote hybrid.   

Nevertheless,  the US Federal Fish & Wildlife Service runs a captive breeding program, which currently it has “approximately 241 red wolves [being] maintained in 45 captive breeding facilities throughout the United States” in an effort to support a population of “about 15 to 17 red wolves [that] roam their native habitats in eastern North Carolina”.  As we Americans say “Your tax dollars at work.”

Why all this confusion?  The Species Problem!  Wolf species status was assigned by geography and appearance.  When a genetic study was done  recently [ .pdf file here ], it was found that there is only one species of wolf in North America – the Gray Wolf.  (There are, however two accepted spellings:  Gray Wolf and Grey Wolf – Gray Wolf is considered the American spelling.)

The illogical result is that a hybrid animal – the Red Wolf — is being protected as “species” at great cost and effort. 

It is long been proven that wolves and domestic dogs can and do interbreed.  And have been doing so whenever wolves and domestic dogs share the same territory.  It is unknown how many wolves in the wild are actually wolf-dog hybrids. 

“Hybridization between wolves and dogs typically occurs when the wolf population is under strong hunting pressure and its structure is disrupted due to a high number of free-ranging dogs. Wolves typically display aggressiveness toward dogs, but a wolf can change its behavior and become playful or submissive when it becomes socially isolated.” Wiki ] (This paragraph describes the environment found in Alaska and America’s ranching states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas, and more.) 

What is going on in Germany?  Like many other countries in Europe, Germany has been re-introducing wolves to the “wild”.  Of course, the European Union has regulations about wolves, protecting them even when they enter towns and villages.   

Now, based on the regulations of the EU, mandating protection of wolves as a species:

 “The puppies of a wolf that has mated with a domestic dog must be tracked down and shot, Bavarian authorities said. ….  Officials documented the wolf-dog hybrids in the Lower Franconia region on the north-western edge of Bavaria. German law mandates that these hybrid animals be shot to protect the local wolf population.”

“Bavarian authorities have found genetic traces of a she-wolf and her offspring in the Rhön-Grabfeld district in Lower Franconia after examining the carcasses of three dead sheep”. [see further down for livestock predation numbers]

“The genetic findings indicate that the puppies are wolf dogs that emerged from the mating of the mother with a domestic dog in the spring of this year, the Bavarian State Office for the Environment (LfU) announced on Thursday.”

“The Federal Nature Conservation Act stipulates that the hybrids must be shot. The mixing of dogs and wolves leads to genetic changes that could lead to a deterioration in the gene pool in wild animals, said a spokesman for the LfU.”

“The wolf is perfectly adapted to life in the wild, while domestic dogs are not. Officials said the long-term survival of wolves in the wild can only be ensured if the animal doesn’t lose its adaptations to its natural environment, which crossbreeding could endanger.”

“The LfU said it would take no steps to remove the hybrid pups. Removal may involve catching or shooting the animals. But for hybrids older than three months, the authorities, as is the case in the current situation, opt for “lethal removal”, that is, shooting down.”

“Wild-born animals like the hybrid pups could not adapt to permanent confinement in an enclosure and would suffer in captivity, authorities said.”   source ]

The illogic of the justifications may come from translation problems, but the steps called for themselves are borderline nonsensical.  They are going to hunt down the hybrid pups older than 3 months. 

They are going to hunt them because a hybrid wolf-dog might “lose its adaptations to its natural environment” but if these hybrids are captured and placed in animal shelters, they might “suffer in captivity” because they are born to be wild  – to prevent those two contradictory results, they will hunt and shoot them instead.

Exactly how will they be able to tell the hybrid wolves from the “pure-bred” wolves when they get out to hunt them down? 

Who knows? …unless the non-wolf parent looked nothing like a wolf (an unlikely chance breeding – certainly not a wolf-dachshund cross). 

Shoot first, genetic test second? 

How is Germany, or any other European country, going to prevent Nature from doing its thing?  Two opposite sexed Canis animals, one Canis lupus and one Canis familiaris, meet in the woods, sparks fly, love ensues, and as with human teenagers, the inevitable happens -> Puppies!

Why inevitable?  Ask any dog breeder…if you let your female-in-heat get loose even for a few hours, you risk unplanned pregnancy and non-pure-bred pups.  And this works both ways with wolves and dogs.

Not everyone is happy with wolf reintroduction – especially ranchers.  See these two stories from the US state of Idaho: Imported Timber-Wolves Kill 143 Sheep in Single Day in Idaho and Wolf fight erupts in Idaho over new law allowing unlimited hunting, trapping.

The Guardian gave us Germany’s predation numbers for 2017: “Wolf attacks on livestock increased drastically in 2017, according to government statistics released at the weekend: they carried out 472 attacks, an increase of 66% over the previous year. The number of killed, injured or missing livestock – mostly sheep and goats – rose 55%, to 1,667.”

More recent is this chart from Germany’s Documentation and Federal Advisory Council — National damage statistics:

Each wolf assault results in about three deaths or injuries of domestic animals – mostly sheep.  By 2019, dead and injured domestic animals had almost doubled since 2017. 

[Aside — I have had to deal with a Canis attack on a herd of sheep – Canis familiaris – lovely pet dogs from down the street.  Killed three lambs and injured six ewes badly enough to require a veterinarian. I caught the dogs, each of them smiling and happy at the fun of it all, with snouts dripping blood.  All Canis species and sub-species are natural predators.]

The Europeans have set themselves quite a problem – how to reintroduce wolves into a larger environment that includes domestic dogs, many of them allowed to free-range?  Germany alone is home to over 10 million pet dogs

The cross-breeding problem will not and cannot be solved with guns.

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Author’s Comment:

These endangered species laws and regulations are often ill-thought-out and poorly, illogically, instituted and enforced. 

As a species, humans are good are domesticating, breeding and raising animals.  We are not good at all in our attempts to control Nature and force wild animals back into an environment from which they have been extirpated. [“Biologists use extirpated to describe species that no longer exist in a specific region.”]  That’s what re-introduction efforts are – the reverse of extirpation. 

The extirpation of large predators was intentional on the part of human society.  Not always carried out with careful fore-thought.  Early homesteaders could not easily bear the cost of losing livestock to wolves (or bears or cougars).  These farmers and ranchers, isolated from other people, feared for their children as well.

I am not yet well-enough informed to make a judgement on the reintroduction of predators large enough to hunt and kill larger domestic animals (cattle, goats, sheep). Such events are common in the present, even though populations of large predators are low. 

Occasionally, a human is attacked and injured/killed by large predators: mountain lions (Puma concolor) in California;  wolves rarely kill or injure humans, though it is not unheard of. 

As settlements in America moved west from the east coast, wolves were systematically exterminated.  Black bears also can and do kill humans (estimated at 25 fatal attacks in the last 20 years).   

And, of course, then there are the grizzly bears and polar bears (and here).

Unresolved.  An interesting problem.

Thanks for reading.

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