One summer evening, a middle-aged woman went out into the woods for a walk with her two dogs. She had not gone far when one of them froze in her tracks.
‘Nelly just stopped, looked in one direction and then turned and wanted to go home,’ Nicky told The Mail on Sunday. ‘She was very scared and could not move. I guessed he must have smelled something.
‘I didn’t want to hang around, so we went home early. I knew that a few weeks back two deer had been killed in the forest. Locals found the bodies – a deer had its stomach torn open.
The mother of two didn’t have to wait long to find out what a lucky escape she was.
An estimated 20,000 wolves roam the European mainland amid calls to kill the animals
The next morning, news spread to Beinhorn, a village in the German region of Lower Saxony, that a terrifying discovery had been made in a nearby meadow.
There, lying in the tall grass, were the bloodied remains of a pony that had been killed by a wolf.
The pony, it turns out, was called Dolly and was 30 years old. More important was the identity of its owner: the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who owns a farmhouse in the village.
At the time, the story received only a passing mention in the German press. Mrs von der Leyen, a keen horseman and mother of seven, revealed her family were ‘deeply distressed’ by the loss.
But what emerged last week were the wider implications of Dolly’s death – not just for the killer wolf but for all 20,000 wolves roaming the European mainland and reproducing at an alarming rate.
Because in the weeks that followed, Mrs von der Leyen put herself on a collision course with conservationists by backing growing calls to relax laws protecting wolves in Europe.
‘The Commission considers that the return of wolves and their increasing numbers constitute a cause of conflict,’ he wrote to fellow members of the European People’s Party.
At the same time, members of the European Parliament passed a resolution to ease laws protecting wolves.
Back in his homeland, more direct action was being taken to solve the problem.
DNA samples taken from Dolly’s body were able to identify the wolf responsible for killing the pony when authorities matched them to other samples taken from a dozen killings of livestock in the area.
Questions have been raised over whether Ursula von der Leyen personally intervened to secure a special permit to hunt the wolf that killed her beloved 30-year-old pony, Dolly (pictured).
As a result, the authorities in Hanover issued permits to hunt and shoot wolves.
Such permission is only granted under EU rules, leading to the question of whether Mrs von der Leyen – possibly to avenge Dolly’s death – could personally intervene.
While both he and the German authorities have denied that this is the case, the incident has only added to the debate about the wisdom of reintroducing species into environments where they affect human activities.
Some European countries are seeing wolf populations increase by more than a third each year, with thousands of sheep, goats and cattle being killed annually.
All frustrated farmers who are prohibited from killing hunters can build large fences or deploy guard dogs to protect their stock.
While there are no immediate plans to reintroduce wolves to the UK, experts here claim there is enough land in Scotland to release them, with some suggesting it could happen within 20 years.
The idea is that they will naturally control the number of deer.
But – as farmers like Krogmann, a herdsman from Lower Saxony, discovered to their cost – deer is not the only thing wolves eat.
After losing several sheep to 17 separate wolf attacks, he has completely abandoned his 800-strong flock.
“The attacks were horrific,” the 42-year-old said. ‘Sometimes the entrails were spread over several kilometres.
‘The surviving sheep are left in terror for months. Many males cannot mate, many ewes cannot become pregnant. Some lambs born soon after the attack rammed their heads into walls so hard that they killed themselves, or ran into traffic and caused accidents.
‘VIPs like von der Leyen are now suddenly saying that something must be done – this is all very well – but where were they when we were crying out for support and action?’
Wolves were hunted to extinction in Britain in the 18th century, with the remaining packs in Europe being forced to the fringes of the continent.
In the weeks following Dolly’s death, Mrs von der Leyen ordered commission officials to re-evaluate the rules strictly protecting wolves in Europe, whose numbers were thought to be 21,500.
However, in the last 50 years, the species has made a dramatic comeback, thanks to conservation efforts and the re-accessibility of habitat previously used for agriculture.
Wolves are now recorded in almost all continental European countries, with numbers increasing from 16,000 to 21,500 in 2016.
They are protected under EU law, which means that all forms of intentionally capturing or killing them in the wild is prohibited.
But as wolves spread across Europe, so did the loss of livestock.
In 2020, wolves in France killed more than 11,000 sheep or goats, as well as 224 cattle and four horses.
Meanwhile, Italian farmers lost 8,400 sheep and goats, 1,400 cattle, and 300 horses and donkeys.
Even in densely populated Belgium, at least two packs of nine wolves each are active. In 2021, he killed a Shetland pony – an incident deemed by its owner as ‘not a gentle matter’.
“We suspect that they dragged the animal for more than 100 meters across the grassland,” he said. ‘There are drag marks, blood, intestines and bones strewn everywhere.’
As far as Germany is concerned, wolves were extinct for about 100 years. But that all changed at the turn of the millennium as the Pax migrated from Poland.
Today, they number around 1,300 – divided into 160 packs, and 40 pairs and 20 lone wolves roaming the countryside.
Again, farmers protest against the effects on their livestock. In 2006, German farmers lost just 40 animals to wolves.
Last year 2,881 sheep and goats, as well as 251 cattle, were killed.
While attacks on horses are rare, Dolly was one of 16 that were attacked.
The involvement of a wolf in the pony’s death on 1 September was confirmed by examination of bite marks. Local authorities suspected one particular animal, named GW950m, which is also responsible for killing a dozen other sheep and cows.
This has been confirmed by the DNA sample taken at the scene. At the same time, the GW950m was given permission to shoot by the authorities in the Hanover region.
When news of the permit first emerged, officials did not comment on whether Mrs von der Leyen was involved in obtaining it.
But, in fact, the application to kill the wolf was made on 31 August – the day before Dolly’s body was discovered. Who made it is unknown.
The 21-page permit, seen by The Mail on Sunday, was granted on 6 October and is valid until 31 January.
The license allows the ‘lethal removal’ of wolves, allowing the use of night-vision goggles.
It states that the license is being granted because the wolf has been responsible for ‘biting’ three cows, nine sheep and a goat as well as a horse, and adds: ‘It has learned to attack over many years’ Is.’
Refreshingly, it says that the wolf’s pattern of behavior shows it is ‘perfecting’ its hunting techniques, and is likely to ‘continue to do so in the future’… Wolves prey on animals that They can be easily controlled. Unprotected farm animals are especially easy to catch’.
In the weeks following Dolly’s death, Mrs von der Leyen ordered commission officials to re-evaluate the rules that strictly protect wolves in Europe.
Pictured: The body of Ursula von der Leyen’s prized horse named Dolly is seen lying dead in a pasture in Germany after being rescued by wolves in September last year
In a letter sent to Christian Democratic MEPs, she wrote: ‘There have been numerous reports of wolf attacks on animals and of increased risk to local people.
Obviously, this situation raises questions in the affected areas about whether the current protection status of wolves is appropriate.
It is a question that its neighbors in Lower Saxony are quick to answer. ‘It’s clear we have a lot of wolves now,’ said Nicky, who declined to give his surname.
Another neighbour, retired horse-breeding association official Volker Hofmeister, 65, said: ‘I have a friend who has seen wolf claw marks. They were as big as his hands.
‘ He also found a deer whose throat had been slit open.
‘The problem is that wolves are very well protected in Europe. The European Parliament needs to find a solution and Ursula von der Leyen is right to seek one.
‘What happened to her pony was very sad, but perhaps her death will mean something will be done.’
For Insa Bartels, no action can come too soon. Her 13-year-old pony Peru was killed by a pack of three wolves in August 2020 in a field eight miles from Mrs von der Leyen’s farm.
“We had five horses and two calves with six cows and six calves in a large field, behind a barbed wire fence and a separate electric fence,” she said.
‘We heard wolves howling in the woods and at around 11 pm our dogs started going crazy. The next morning, my husband’s son was on his way to work when he saw something lying in the field. He called us and we went to see.
‘We found our pony dead. His colt Murphy was ahead in the meadow with the other horses. He was still alive, but the flesh had been ripped from his back.
‘A local hunter found traces of at least three wolves, each weighing 70 kilos. They were really powerful and big.’
The calf was treated at a veterinary clinic for two weeks and is still badly injured.
Mrs Bartels said, ‘We believe Murphy would have been the first to be attacked because wolves go for the smallest and weakest.’
‘The experts we spoke to believe Peru may have placed herself in their midst to save her child.
‘She was always a fighter and didn’t give up, but this meant the wolves attacked her and that put Murphy away.’
Mrs Bartels said that there were many wolves in Lower Saxony, adding: ‘We have more wolves here than in the whole of Sweden. This needs to change.
Hermann Grupp, a farmer and former member of the Lower Saxony regional parliament, said: ‘The number of wolves is currently increasing by 33 per cent a year.
‘The problem is that wolves are classified as having “strictly protected” status and as a result nothing has stopped them from settling and breeding so rapidly. It is like a mass plague.
However, environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund disagree, and accuse campaigners of ‘promoting the fairy tale that killing wolves will solve all problems’.
Dr Peter Blanche, president of Germany’s Society for the Protection of Wolves, claimed that the issuing of hunting permits fails to tackle the problem and ‘too often the wrong wolf is shot’.
He said: ‘All that is needed is good herding, proper fencing, and proper money.’
Whatever the solution, clearly something needs to change.
But whether or not Dolly Pony’s death will be a catalyst, only time will tell.
Additional reporting: Rob Hyde
#chief #Ursula #von #der #Leyen #embroiled #pony #deaths #wolves #kill #Europe