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A wolf which strays into Romanian human settlements is also a protected specimen

19 June 2020
European Law

There is fierce debate in The Netherlands whether the arrival of wolves could be dangerous for sheep or humans and what their protected status should imply. The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg also has had to consider the protection of this fairy animal in several cases. In a recent judgment, the Court had the opportunity to provide further explanation. These protection rules are enshrined in the 1992 European Habitats Directive. This Directive is intended to enlarge sustainability and biodiversity in Europe. It comprises lists of protected animal and plant species and it comprises  obligations for protected areas which can be designated by the member states (Nature-2000).  In The Netherlands, the Habitats Directive rules are the background for the Nitrogen discussion which arose after the annulment by a judiciary institution of the public policy provisions for the agricultural sector.

The Romanian wolf

The wolf in this case had left its natural habitat and had strayed into a village just outside but close to a designated Nature-2000 territory in Romania. It had been seen on the property of a local resident where the wolf was playing and eating with the family’s dogs. After sedation, the wolf was captured by representatives of a local animal protection agency and a veterinary surgeon to be transported in a cage to a bear reserve. However, during the transport, the wolf managed to escape and to disappear into the surrounding forest. A local association established to combat animal abuse filed a criminal complaint against the agency and the veterinary surgeon. Furthermore, no authorization or license to capture and transport the wolf had been granted by the public authorities.

In the proceedings before the Romanian Court, a discussion came up whether the prohibition for capture and transport of a protected animal enacted in the Habitats Directive also extended to territories outside the natural habitat of an animal and outside designated Natura-2000 sites.

Scope for the protection from the member states

In its response to the question submitted by the Romanian judge, the Court of Justice recalls that the member states are required by the Habitats Directive to establish a system of strict protection of listed species in their natural range. The prohibition of deliberate capture or killing has a geographical range which can be larger than their traditional range. The area of protection must contain the essential physical or biological elements for the life and the reproduction of the protected animals.

More and more, wolves occupy vast stretches of territory. Wild specimens may stray close to or into human settlements, passing through such areas or feeding on resources produced by humans. In many regions of the European Union, wolves live in areas occupied by humans. The human impact on those areas is increasing, with the result that wolves partially have to adapt to new conditions. The Court refers to other elements like the development of new infrastructure, illegal logging, farming and certain industrial activities which also contribute to the pressure exerted on the wolf population and its habitat. To support its assessment, the Court refers to the 1979 Berne Convention of migratory species of wild animals to which the European Union itself is one of the signatory parties.

The Court concludes that, following to the objectives and the provisions of the Habitats Directive,  the prohibition of illegal capture or killing of a protected animal like the wolf applies to all territories to which wolves may strain, including human settlements. This response is clear for the Romanian Court. The capture and relocation of a specimen of a protected species, such as the wolf, can only be carried out under a derogation adopted by a competent national authority in accordance with the provisions of the Habitats Directive, in particular on the grounds of public safety.

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