Damage prevention

WPIUs in Action in Austria

9 April 2022
The LIFE WolfAlps EU project addresses one of the most important causes of human-carnivore conflict represented by the damages to livestock  caused by wolf attacks, making prevention of the damages crucial in solving problems. Wolf Prevention Intervention Units are also active in Austria, supporting and giving advice on the best protection strategies that can be applied in different contexts. In the Rauris area in June 2021a WPIU was deployed for the first time. On the weekend before, there had been a wolf attack in the area of the Schafburg agricultural community in Hundsdorf (municipality of Rauris, Salzburg). Due to the attack and the subsequent panic in the flock of sheep, about 60 animals were partially injured or lost. The remaining animals (about 90) were moved to a safe valley pasture. The emergency team was alerted at 3 pm by the representative of the District Chamber of Farmers St. Johann/Pg.-Johann Huber, the Wolf Commissioner of the Province of Salzburg-Hubert Stock and the chairman of the Austrian Centre Bear, Wolf, Lynx (ÖZ)-Klaus Pogadl. The team, formed by Reinhard Huber, as team leader, Daniel Eingang (AREC) and two staff members of the Enns-Paltental machinery syndicate, set off for the area of operation at around 4 pm. In the evening, the pen into which the remaining sheep had been brought was secured with a livestock protection fence. The necessary material was part of the  emergency team’s equipment. Due to the large number of missing animals, it was decided to conduct the search the following day (Tuesday) using a drone with a thermal imaging camera owned by AREC (HBLFA Raumberg-Gumpenstein). Reinhard Huber and Andreas Klingler (AREC, HBLFA Raumberg-Gumpenstein) and an employee of the Enns-Paltental machinery syndicate were involved. Ten living animals could be located 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 therefore, only one animal could be caught, the rest fled into inaccessible terrain. The difficult terrain was no problem for the wolf, so the remaining sheep were also killed. The high number of dead sheep on the alpine pasture resulted from difficult terrain, the growth of mountain pines and green alder, where the sheep like to stay in hot weather, and the kind of landscape where the wolf feels at home. In the Sirnitz area the first dead sheep were found on 17.07.2021 and the following day. A total of nine animals fell victim to the wolf. Twenty living sheep were driven off the mountain pasture on 20.7.2021 in the evening, and so far there was no trace of the five still missing sheep. Among these five missing sheep was also a five-day-old lamb. However, its mother was killed and therefore the lamb was believed to be dead too. There were also mother cows on the pasture, one of which had a three-day-old calf, and another one was due to give birth in the following few days. The farmer was concerned that the calves could be the next victims when the sheep were no longer on site. The WPIU’s tasks were to look for the missing sheep, to move a dead sheep away from the trail, to round up the mother cows and to help to load the two cows and calf. In June in the Kirchbach area eight sheep were killed, whereby a shepherd was on site. Patricia Graf, the damage inspector, took the DNA samples. The injuries of the dead sheep pointed to a wolf, whereas a bear was considered unlikely. In the year before, several damages caused by bears were documented in the region. To protect the sheep, a night pen made of grazing nets was established by the farmer after the attack. To prevent another attack, the farmer spent the night next to the pen and his sheep. According to the farmer, the large carnivore returned during the night and took the carcass of the animal killed in the previous night. The WPIU replaced four pasture nets by new nets in the night pen set up by the farmer and added electricity to the fence. In addition, a second pen was prepared (two nets). Furthermore, the fence was reinforced with flashing lights (foxlights) and flutter tapes. After the animals were brought in, a voltage of 7400 volts and 2.3 amperes was measured at the fence with a fence tester. In addition, two wildlife cameras were installed next to the pens to record any animal movements.