WPIU in action in Austria!
The wolf prevention intervention units (WPIU) just trained in Austria have started to take action, with two interventions to support breeders involved in livestock depredation.
The Austrian Center Bear, Wolf, Lynx, a supporter of the WolfAlpsEU project, is working with the Agricultural Research and Education Centre (AREC) on the long-term establishment of Wolf Prevention Intervention Units (WPIU) in Austria and coordinates the missions. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (member of the Austrian Center Bear, Wolf, Lynx) has provided financial support. This means that there are no costs for the affected farmers.
The main responsibility of a WPIU is to help affected farmers after a wolf attack, quickly and unbureaucratically, and with appropriate expertise and equipment. After an alert, the team must be as quickly as possible on the scene, assess the situation about herd protection, apply preventive measures and pass on information to neighbouring grazing areas. Concrete measures include, the establishment of herd protection fences, the gathering of scattered animals and assistance. The team brings along necessary knowledge, material and special equipment.
The first operation took place on Monday, June 7, 2021. The weekend before, a tearing incident occurred in the area of the agricultural community Schafburg in Hundsdorf (municipality of Rauris, Salzburg). Due to a wolf attack and the subsequent panic in the flock of sheep, about 60 animals were partially harmed or lost. The remaining animals (about 90) were moved to a safe valley pasture.
The WPIU was alarmed at 3 p.m. by the representative of the agricultural chamber St. Johann/Pg.-Johann Huber, the wolf representative of the federal state Salzburg, Hubert Stock and the chairman of the Austria center bear, wolf, lynx (ÖZ, Klaus Pogadl). The team, consisting of Reinhard Huber as team leader and Daniel Eingang (AREC) and two employees of the machinery syndicate Enns-Paltental helped to secure the site with a herd protection fence and to move the remaining sheep to a safer pasture.
Due to the high number of missing animals, it was decided to search for them on the following day (Tuesday) using a drone with a thermal imaging camera. Reinhard Huber and Andreas Klingler (AREC) as well as an employee of the machinery syndicate Enns-Paltental were involved. Ten animals which were still alive could be sighted through the camera. Due to fog and the difficult terrain, the search was only possible to a limited extent. The animals were very frightened and so only one animal could be captured, the rest fled into inaccessible terrain.
A second wolf attack requiring a WPIU intervention took place in the night 19 -20 June on the alpine pasture Kirchbacherwipfelalm in Carinthia.
In recent days there have been attacks on sheep, where 8 animals were killed by a large carnivore – most likely a wolf. Since the large carnivore is still suspected in the area, the sheep should be protected at night from further attacks. For this purpose, the wolf prevention intervention unit (WPUI), which consists of staff of the HBLFA Raumberg-Gumpenstein and of the machinery syndicate Enns/Paltental with appropriate equipment of fencing material for the construction of a security paddock. This was an immediate measure to ensure the survival of the animals during the next nights. Furthermore, the fence was additionally equipped with flutter tapes for increased visibility of the fence and with flashing lights that flash at different intervals and in different colors. However, this is only a short-term measure.
Our cultural landscape, especially our alpine pastures, have been created by the management with grazing animals. On most alpine pastures, the grazing activity of animals is necessary to free the areas from bushes and larger plants. However, large carnivores such as wolf, bear, lynx make it more difficult to do management in traditional forms. For decades, sheep have enjoyed free grazing on most alpine pastures, where they also use steep areas and protect them from overgrowth. If these areas are no longer grazed on, they will become overgrown and valuable pasture and important habitat for other animals get lost. If the grass is not fed on, it settles on the ground like a mat in autumn, on which snow can easily slide away, there is an increased danger of avalanches, or the snow freezes on the grass and carries the ground with it, leading to erosion and mudslides. Adapted measures can help to prevent these natural consequences.
One example is rightly the affected Kirchbachwipfelalm: in 2015, a bear killed a sheep on the alpine pasture, and since then the alp has not been managed with sheep and goats. The consequences are already visible today: Valuable forage area is overgrown by dwarf shrubs and green alder, here and there small trees are already growing. If this is not counteracted in the near future with appropriate grazing pressure, many parts of this alpine pasture will be lost. The farmer Martin wants to manage this pasture with sheep again this year. Unfortunately, he had the first dead animals after a short time, as described above. Nevertheless, he does not want to give up grazing as he wants to secure the maintenance of this alpine pasture.
It takes a lot of time and effort to protect the flock. Normally Martin checks his sheep several times a week. Now it is a matter of rounding up the sheep every day in the evening, which is normally a feeding time for them, and putting them in a night closure. Every morning they need to be released on the pasture again. This requires a person who is present all-day long. The costs for such an additional staff and for the night closure are more than 2000 Euro. Unfortunately, Carinthia does not yet have funding for herd protection fences, such as Salzburg or Tyrol, which is why a solution has not been found yet.