Reinhard Heintz pulls out his mobile phone and shows pictures of a gnawed skeleton. The bones of a sheep. "Torn by a wolf," says the shepherd in a hushed voice, wrinkling his brow. A wolf in his neighborhood in the Hüttenberger Land. Probably an animal in transit, but even that is hungry and found a prey in a Cameroon sheep of a hobby shepherd. For the wool of his Rhön sheep and Coburg foxes, both rare breeds, he receives only cents per kilogram. The end of small slaughterhouses in rural areas makes direct marketing more difficult for Heintz and his ilk. Not to mention bureaucracy. "But our biggest problem is the wolf," says the chairman of the Hessian Association for Sheep Breeding and Husbandry. And he adds: "If there is no regulation, pasture sheep farming in Hesse will be over in five years."

Thorsten Winter

Correspondent of the Rhein-Main-Zeitung for Central Hesse and the Wetterau.

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Now Heintz, aged traveller felt hat, green coarse embroidered wool jacket, checked shirt, does not tend to alarmism. Rather, he radiates calm. Farmers often complain, he says with a mischievous smile. One should not take every ailment as a reason for complaints. But the advance of the wolf goes too far. "It will break the neck of grazing sheep," he affirms, "but we will not be heard." Not in state politics and not in nature conservation associations.

Four wolf packs and a loner

On the one hand, the population of wolves in Hesse is steadily increasing, as confirmed by the Wolf Centre of the Hessian State Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology in Wiesbaden. On the other hand, it is still clear. 20 sedentary specimens were genetically detected last year, seven more than in 2021. Saliva remains of wolves on torn animals or hair serve as proof. There are therefore packs in the Rheingau, in the Stölzinger Gebirge in northern Hesse, in the district of Hersfeld-Rotenburg and in the Hessian-Bavarian borderland. All quite far away from the Hüttenberger Land, which is located in the middle of Hesse. In addition, only 2022 livestock torn by wolves have become known in 20. Since the beginning of this year, however, there have already been seven. And: The wolf is very mobile. With migrating wolves is to be expected throughout Hesse at any time, according to the wolf center. In addition, according to the Ministry of the Environment, there is now an individual proof in the Hochtaunus.

In view of this, the state hunting association demands – just as Heintz and the Hessian Farmers' Association do – a regulation of the population. In order to protect the grazing animals, the wolf must be shown limits, according to the farmers' lobby. She wants an upper limit for the stock. By shooting? Heintz, who also belongs to the farmers' association, does not use the word. What regulation could look like, he leaves open. From the Ministry it says: "Currently, the question of a regulation of the wolf population does not arise, since Hesse is only at the beginning of the resettlement." However, it takes the concerns of sheep farmers very seriously.

Sheep the easier prey than a deer

Are there no alternatives, such as higher fences? "They're too heavy," says the shepherd. In addition, they cost more than the already common specimens through which electricity is sent. Nevertheless, a fence does not stop a wolf in case of doubt. "The idea that he comes with his nose to the electric fence, gets one wiped and then warps, does not correspond to reality." The wolf learns quickly and, in case of doubt, does it like a herding dog: he simply jumps over the fence. A sheep is easier prey than a deer, because sheep remain rooted in the face of imminent danger, while a deer runs away.

Now every walker knows: Many a more or less large herd stands alone on a fenced pasture. This also applies to goats. Shepherds could buy herd guard dogs that keep watch at night. However, such an animal costs around 4000,<> euros and must be certified, says Heintz. In addition, the owner himself must attend courses and prove his expertise in dealing with such dogs. All this adds up, especially since shepherds are under economic pressure anyway, as the Ministry of the Environment confirms. According to Heintz, staying overnight with the animals as in earlier times and intervening in case of doubt in the event of an attack is out of the question. This does not fit into the daily routine, especially since many colleagues keep the animals as a sideline.