In Europe, since the time when humans became farmers and livestock breeders, conflict with large carnivores has existed. People’s property has been threatened by predators, like wolves and bears as forests have been cleared and prey populations have become more scarce.

Persecuted as they hunt for prey
Many farmers resorted to persecution in an attempt to protect their livestock from attacks from large predators such as bears and wolves. As a result in many areas these carnivores were eliminated entirely.

Wolves in Norway
Despite protests by WWF and other concerned partners, the beginning of 2005 saw another five wolves killed in Norway - a quarter of the country’s wolf population.

The Norwegian Government granted licences to hundreds of farmers to kill the wolves as a measure to prevent the actual or perceived loss of domestic livestock, primarily sheep. The controversy has also attracted critical comments from the Swedish minister of the environment who has accused Norway of taking unilateral decisions to manage what is a joint population.

The wolf (Canis lupus) became a protected species in Norway in 1973 and is cited on its red list of endangered species as 'critically endangered'. The Norwegian Ministry of the Environment is ultimately responsible for ensuring that there are viable populations of all red-listed species.

Bears in Europe
Bears throughout Europe (as elsewhere) are somtimes known to attack livestock and water pipes, raid orchards, attack rubbish bins and and on occasion storehouses of food. People are naturally scared of these large predators and the first reaction is to attack or shoot them.

However, attacks on humans do not appear to be a result of predatory behaviour, but rather a result of the bear defending itself, its cubs or a carcass against humans. A wounded bear poses the biggest threat.

In Austria, teams of bear specialists sometimes capture and move a problem bear to a new area or work to condition the bear not to attack or dwell near human settlements.

WWF and its partners are working in many parts of Western Europe and Scandinavia to reintroduce bears, wolves, lynx, and bearded vultures, and to increase the populations of these species.

Reintroducing species is not always popular but many measures have been used to reduce conflict between the animals and humans including:

  • Monitoring lynx numbers in Switzerland, and translocating animals once they have reached a maximum number in a particular area.
  • Working with farmers to protect livestock and property from large carnivores. For example, training of Abruzzo mastiffs (a large dog breed) in Italy to protect sheep against wolf attacks.
  • Working with farmers in Sweden to minimize encounters with brown bears and wolves.
  • Compensation schemes for the Sami in Sweden for reindeer taken by wolves.
  • Education to gain public support for the presence of large carnivores.
© WWF / Michel Gunther
Bear populations were once found in healthy numbers throughout Switzerland, but years of persecution led to their extinction. The last bear in Switzerland was killed in 1904 in the eastern alpine valley of S-charl.
© WWF / Michel Gunther
Close up of a wolf looking into the camera 
© WWF / Chris Martin Bahr
A Norwegian cull of wolves will bring the national population below 20 individuals.
© WWF / Chris Martin Bahr