A pack of wolves killed a mother cow for the first time. But how many packs of wolves actually live in this country? How many cattle are killed each year? The most important facts about wolves in Switzerland.
How many wolves live in Switzerland? The wolf was exterminated in Switzerland in the 19th century. After 1871, a few wolves were seen and killed. However, wolves have been migrating to Switzerland again since 1995. At first there were males, mostly from Italy and France.
A female wolf was recorded in Switzerland for the first time in 2002. In 2012, a successful mating took place on the Calanda massif (GR), and the first Swiss wolf pack was formed. By January 2022, the number of active packs in Switzerland had increased to 16. In 2021, 153 wolves were found in Switzerland. The number has increased by a factor of 15 since 2010.
Where are wolf packs located? Wolves find their favorite habitat above all in the less densely populated Alpine region and in the Jura. For example, there are two packages in Vau-Jura, four in Valais and seven in the canton of Graubünden. Two other packages are located in Ticino and one in the canton of Glarus. A herd is a pair of parents and their offspring. With the onset of sexual maturity, young animals usually leave the herd.
How many cattle have been killed in Switzerland? Wolves always kill cattle. This leads to conflict. With the number of wolves on the rise in Switzerland, the number of farm animals has also risen sharply, but to a lesser extent than the numbers of wolves thanks to livestock protection measures. Thus, the number of cattle killed per wolf is declining. In 2020, 853 head of cattle were reported to have been killed by wolves. In about 90% of cases it was sheep, and in 5% of cases it was goats. Wolves rarely kill donkeys, cattle, or horses. In only about 1% of cases, the wolf kills the so-called cow-like animals (0 to 5 animals per year).
According to the Wolf Switzerland group, these calves are mostly calves bred on pastures. According to Wolf Schweiz, wolves kill most farm animals in “unprotected situations”.
What costs do wolves cause for livestock? Breeders of farm animals who have been found to have killed wolves receive compensation from the Federation and the Cantons at the value of the animal’s market value. These costs were around CHF 272,000 in 2020 and have increased significantly in recent years.
When can a wolf be shot? The wolf is a protected animal species in Switzerland and may not be hunted. Farm animals should be protected with herd protection measures, for example with dogs. These actions are funded by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). According to the Hunting Law, wolves may be shot if they cause severe damage to livestock. Solitary wolves may be shot if they kill 25 head of cattle within four months or 15 head of cattle within one month.
Cows are a special case: if a wolf kills two cows within four months, it can be shot. Approval from Bafu is mandatory. More stringent criteria apply to wolves from the herd: they may only be killed after the herd has successfully reproduced within one year. A maximum of half of the small animals can be dropped.
Expert: Attacking a herd of cows is unusual
Several wolves recently attacked and killed a mother cow in canton Graubünden – according to expert Marianne Heberlein, a very unusual behavior. Wolves are basically very shy animals and will not take any unnecessary risks, says the scientific director of the Wolf Research Center in Ernesbrunn, part of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.
The wolf will only attack if there is a good chance of success and there is no danger of injury. It is therefore unusual for a wolf to attack a herd of cows. “Cows congregate to protect their young animals in the middle and are relatively defensive against the outside.” In the aforementioned Bündner Alp, there may have been factors that would have made the cow easy prey. Maybe she was weak, maybe she had just given birth to a calf and then separated from the herd.
Electric fences and defensive cow breeds
Marianne Heberlin believes that better protection of livestock is desirable. Because: “If wolves learn to hunt something, and if there is a certain animal on their dinner plate, then they will come back to it again.” As a short-term measure, Heberlin recommends interlocking electric fences.
In the long run, it is beneficial to rely on mountain cow breeds that exhibit strong natural protective behaviour. Horned herds and livestock guard dogs can also be useful. On the other hand, shooting lead animals is a problem. They taught young wolves to hunt – if this was not done, young animals would rather rely on easy prey such as flocks of sheep.
Heberlin does not believe that wolves now kill livestock more frequently. The size of the pack almost always remains stable, as does the density of the wolf. What changes are the populated areas.