By MOLLY QUELL
THE HAGUE (AP) — A Dutch court on Wednesday rejected a plan to control the country’s growing wolf population by shooting at the animals with paintball guns to scare them away from people.
A local court ruled that officials had not justified their decision to use the novel approach as a safe way to teach the wolves to stay out of populated areas. It said regional authorities had not done enough research into other possible solutions.
Nature conservation society Fauna Protection objected to the plan, arguing it was an untested approach and it was unclear if the paintballs could seriously harm the animals. The group was happy with the outcome. “The judge chose the wolf and not the humans,” the organization’s chairperson, Harm Niesen, said in a statement.
Two centuries after wolves were hunted to extinction in the Netherlands, the animals officially returned to the country in 2019 when a pair of wolves who crossed the border from Germany gave birth to three cubs on Dutch soil.
Initially, the return of the protected species was heralded as a success but as the population of wolves has grown, so has the opposition to them. Farmers claim that the wolves have killed dozens of livestock animals and earlier this month, a video of a wolf chasing a cyclist went viral on social media.
The eastern province of Gelderland issued a special exemption to regulations protecting the species to allow officials at the Hoge Veluwe National Park to shoot the wolves with paintball guns.
The country is now home to four packs of wolves, with the population totaling around 20, although some German wolves do regularly cross the border as well.