Survey: wolves should be strictly protected, majority of rural inhabitants say


Survey: wolves should be strictly protected, majority of rural inhabitants say

30 November 2023
Press Release
Large carnivores, including wolves, should remain strictly protected within the EU, and have a right to co-exist with humans, say an overwhelming majority of rural inhabitants across 10 EU Member States. Wolves are currently at the risk of having their protection downgraded, as the European Commission is currently assessing ‘evidence’ generated by an irregular public consultation process initiated in September 2023, which could lead to a proposal to do so. This move would jeopardise efforts made in the last years for the recovery of wolves in Europe.

The survey, released today, highlights that many rural inhabitants are supportive of protecting wolves and other large carnivores, with 68% stating that they should be strictly protected and over two-thirds (72%) agreeing that they have a right to co-exist.

The farming and hunting lobby have consistently been pushing for the protection status of wolves to be downgraded. Yet a very low proportion of respondents indicated that they feel well-represented by hunting (12%) and farming (18%) interest groups

66% of respondents said that decision-makers, including EU institutions, should prioritise the conservation of large carnivores, with 65% saying that the killing of individual problematic large carnivores should only take place if it can be proved that adequate protection measures have been implemented and failed. Almost 7 in 10 respondents (69%) expressed that the benefits and functions of large carnivores should be considered in decisions related to their management. Wolves, as an example, play a crucial role in regulating prey populations, preventing overgrazing, and ultimately contributing to healthier ecosystems. The survey identified environmental protection for future generations (80%) and conservation of biodiversity (78%) as important priorities for the European Union.

While the risk of attacks by wolves and other large carnivores remains extremely low and can be further reduced by behaving appropriately in the event of such an encounter, the survey clearly highlights a need for greater awareness, with 62% of respondents saying that they would feel safer if they better understood how wolves and bears behave and how to scare them off if they had an encounter.

Tools to prevent and compensate for the economic damage caused by wolves to farmed animals are available, and in light of these results, we call on the European Commission and other EU institutions to listen to the voice of rural communities, as provided in the long-term Vision for the EU's Rural Areas, maintain the strict protection status of wolf populations and continue to implement an ambitious Habitats Directive.

The return of the wolves in Europe is a cause of celebration, not of fear. Despite the narrative being presented by some, the results of this survey clearly highlight that the majority of those living in the proximity of wolves support their protection status and are willing to co-exist. Sound data, and the recognition of  the importance of conservation and biodiversity should drive the European Commission’s decisions and not the interest of a few.

Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals

The loudest voices in the chorus calling for the removal of the protection status for wolves have thus far been the farming and hunting lobbies. They have positioned themselves as representing the interests of rural communities. Yet, the results of this survey strongly suggest that many EU citizens living in rural areas are keen to uphold legal protections for such large carnivores, and support peaceful coexistence with these animals. It is vital that these rural voices are also heard by the European Commission and that ecologically important species like wolves are not declared fair game due to a failure of some to accept that it is necessary to coexist with them.

Joanna Swabe, Senior Director of Public Affairs, Humane Society International/Europe.

Download the full survey