(CN) — In a ruling that will likely advance charges against a veterinarian and others who tried to relocate a wolf caught on private property in Romania, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that the species are protected by EU law wheresoever they roam.
The case stems from Șimon, a village about a 100 miles north of Bucharest in Romania’s Brașov province, where wolves have been documented in two nearby areas that are designated as protected sites of community importance.
Though a copy of Thursday’s Court of Justice ruling is not available in English, court records show that the veterinarian identified only as UN used a hypodermic rifle on the evening of Nov. 6, 2016, to subdue a wolf that had been visiting a Șimon family’s property for the past several days, playing and eating with the family’s dogs.
Once they shot the animal with a dose of drugs, the veterinary team caught the wolf with help from a local animal-welfare unit, lifted it by the tail and nape of the neck, and deposited it in a cage otherwise used to transport dogs.
The team had planned to bring the wolf to Libearty, a bear nature reserve in Zărnești that has a wolf enclosure it uses when taking animals from zoos that have gotten in trouble.
During the transport, however, the wolf broke out of the cage and fled into the forest.
Romanian authorities leveled charges six months later under the country’s animal-welfare laws that prohibit capturing and transporting wolves in inappropriate conditions.
The court in Zărnești put the case on hold, however, and sought input from the European Court of Justice on whether wolves could still be considered if they wander outside of the forest.
It is issue that is becoming more prominent across Europe as the lack of predators has caused populations of the once endangered animal to bounce back.
The Second Chamber of the Court of Justice backed the protections Thursday, saying the so-called Habitats Directive “applies to the entire ‘natural range’ of these species, whether they are in their usual habitat, in protected areas or, on the contrary, near human settlements.”