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Dutch wolves safe from paintball gun-toting park rangers

Rangers in one Dutch province had been using paintball guns as a deterrent against wolves, which recently returned to the Netherlands after a 200-year absence.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — A regional plan to keep wolves at bay by arming park rangers with paintball guns was shot down by a Dutch court on Wednesday. 

Judges for the Central Netherlands District Court upheld an injunction brought by an environmental group against the eastern province of Gelderland, which had allowed the use of paintball guns against wolves to deter them from getting too close to park visitors.

The three-judge panel concluded, in a ruling only available in Dutch, that the regional authorities had not sufficiently proven why they should be allowed to grant an exception to regulations against harming the wolf, which is a protected species in Europe. The court also found that the province had not done enough to investigate other solutions. 

Fauna Protection, the environmental group that brought the complaint, said there had been no research into whether shooting wolves with the dye-filled capsules would do lasting damage. The organization also raised concerns that paint-marred wolves might be rejected from their packs. 

“The judge chose the wolf and not the humans,” Harm Niesen, the group’s chairperson, said in a statement about the ruling Wednesday.

The court was dissatisfied with the evidence that shooting at the wolves with paintball guns was the only solution.

“Options other than the paintball gun have not been carefully considered,” the court said in a statement

Wolves were driven to extinction in the Netherlands by the end of the 1800s but continued to live over the border in Germany. In 2019, a pair of German wolves settled in the country and produced a litter of three pubs, marking the animal’s official return. 

Not everyone was happy about the new addition. Seger baron van Voorst tot Voorst, the director of the Hoge Veluwe National Park where the paintballing was set to take place, called for the protection of the wolf to be lifted when the cubs were first born.

“This Is not the Serengeti,” he told a local newspaper at the time. 

Farmers are equally unhappy. They claim that the wolves - who now number around 30 - have attacked and killed livestock. Last month, the agrarian political party BBB called for an investigation into what could be done about the wolves after several horses were killed. 

The province of Gelderland was motivated to try the paintballing approach after a video of a wolf chasing a cyclist went viral on social media earlier this month. Young wolves can be curious and may not be fearful of humans, animal rights groups say. 

The Netherlands is now home to four packs of wolves, including 20 adults. An estimated 16 cubs were born in the country this year. A number of German wolves also occasionally cross the border between the two countries. 

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