Rewilding gone wrong?

By Laura Peters @jerlien

In a corner of the Netherlands lies an area called the ‘Oostvaardersplassen’, also named the ‘Dutch Serengeti’ by the Guardian. In this land, it is as if you are being transported back in time. Back to a time before big, grey cities and concrete. To a time where the land was green and teeming with wildlife. And not just pigeons or rats, but foxes, deer, cattle and horses.

Upon entering the Oostvaardersplassen, you can see big grazers like Heck cattle, Konik horses and red deer. If you are lucky you will see the Sea Eagle soaring above you, and spot Ravens in the dead, bare trees. Now add a sunset to this image.

Are you sure we are still in the Netherlands?

Yes, I am (I have been there myself).

So how did this area come to be? To be honest, it was an accident. In 1968, there was a big project to promote industrialization and reclaim land from the sea.  However, a certain plot was too wet to develop, and as there was no pressure to do something with it, it was left as it was and nature claimed it as its own. That was when they decided not to build on the area, but to instead do some rewilding: the process of restoring an area to its natural state, before we humans started making changes. The aim is to reintroduce the animals that were removed from the area and to have no human interference at all.

So far, so good, I would say.

In 1983, a total of 32 Heck cattle could call the area their home, together with 18 Konikhorses and 40 red deer a few years later. The animals did very well; so well, that this year they number as follows:

Red deer: 3,950 individuals

Konik horses: 1,050 individuals

Heck cattle: 230 individuals

Lovely! Even more chance to see animals! Except that in winter, you are unfortunately more likely to see a cadaver.

Yikes. Yeah, that’s what I thought too. It turns out that the area is too small to sustain such large numbers of grazers. Whilst there is plenty of food to be found for everyone in spring and summer, they are starving to death in winter. There is not enough food and they cannot leave the Oostvaardersplassen since it is a fenced area. As a result, Rangers shoot the animals that are starving each winter, and concerned communities complain about cruelty.

It has now been decided that the Oostvaardersplassen can sustain 490 Red deer, 450 Konik horses and 230 Heck cattle. If you remember the numbers from before, there is a big difference between the actual amount of grazers that there are, and how many there should be. The horses will be moved to other areas in Europe, but the red deer are not – the stress of translocation would be too much for the animals, so they are to be shot instead.

Is this an example of rewilding gone wrong?

Now lets not be hasty. We simply need to allow nature to take over this problem as well! Wasn’t the whole aim of rewilding to ‘have no human interference’? Exactly. That means we need someone – or something – else to kill the animals for us. Something like…. the Wolf.

Ahum. If this took you with surprise, you are not the only one. There is a lot of doubt about this. However, it is important to recognize that we don’t need to reintroduce the Wolf like we reintroduced the heck cattle. The wolves have already come on their own, to reclaim their land. The latest data suggests that there have been 8 individual wolves to visit the Netherlands in 2018, with one Wolf to stay for longer than a few weeks. She has made her home in the Veluwe, an area not too far away from the Oostvaardersplassen.

Rewilding gone wrong?

No.

Rewilding incomplete!

(And just another photo of these lovely Konik horses to make your day!)

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