On the 29th of June at the Academy of Science in Vienna, the “Science Talk” covered the return of wildlife into the cultivated landscape (e.g. large carnivores or beaver). Panelists were Dr. Philipp Harmer, Head of the CIC Austrian Delegation, Prof. Kurt Kotrschal, Chair of the Konrad-Lorenz-Institute and Director of the Wolf Science Center Ernstbrunn and Prof. Josef Reichholf, Bavarian zoologist.
Reichholf and Kotrschal shared the view that wild animals were decimated in times of feudalism, and the majority of today’s democracies welcome the return of wildlife.
Harmer noted that he spoke in the Science Talk not as a scientist, but as a practitioner (landowner, farmer and hunter) and listed the pros and cons. The return of wildlife enriches biodiversity, providing more jobs in wildlife-related fields. On the other hand, there is a higher risk of human-wildlife conflict which, in turn, through the related fear reduce the use of forests. He posed the following questions to his fellow panelists: What is best for society? What is the real reason of the past disappearance of wildlife? What would be the added value for society of wildlife returning?
Prof. Kotrschal pointed out that the majority of Austrians welcome the “immigration” of certain species (quoting a poll done with 3000 people in Austria) and this public request needs to be implemented.
Prof. Reichholf criticized that the actual loss of bears, wolves, and lynx in Austria was caused by hunters. Harmer responded that there is no evidence for this general incrimination. The vast majority of Austrian hunters follow the principles of sustainable hunting. Moreover, large carnivores are fully protected by the Austrian hunting laws.
The panel discussion was followed by a very lively podium discussion. Harmer pointed out that with the increasing spread of wolves more and more conflicts arise with other wildlife species, livestock and people. The killing of a wolf might be seen as cruel, but it is necessary to reduce conflicts which arise when carnivores return to our anthropogenic landscapes. The natural immigration of carnivores can be seen as enrichment; however, it has to be the right “dose”. The question is, where would be the right habitat in the Alpine region, considering its intensive tourism, livestock farming, and forestry. At the end of the day, management plans are needed, and Harmer fears that hunters themselves will have to design and implement them, in order to control wildlife populations.