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Wolves: we need to debate values openly

May 30, 2018
No animal can match the wolf when it comes to media attention. Sensation often obscures our view of the essential. Various initiatives in the Alpine region are dedicated to improving the image of the wolf.
Image caption:
Our image of the wolf is influenced by our culture.

The probability of a wolf attacking a human is virtually zero. Wolves are shy animals: so shy that Swiss nature photographer and author Peter Dettling had to wait over ten days when filming in Switzerland’s Calanda region before he saw the local wolf pack for the first time. Yet wolves seem to be an ever-present. The media, always on the lookout for scandals, depict mutilated sheep and goats and publish polarising images and stereotypes.

Projects such as “LIFE WOLFALPS” attempt to correct this distorted view. Since 2013 the project has been addressing negative reporting and its consequences. Taking as its motto “first listen, then talk”, the aim is to analyse how best to communicate the return of the wolf, followed by targeted communication and awareness activities to improve knowledge and tolerance among the population.

The University of Zurich project “Wolves: knowledge and practice. Ethnographies of the return of wolves in Switzerland” is currently examining why the image of the big bad wolf is still anchored in our minds. According to the project leader, Bernhard Tschofen, our society has held this image for centuries. Confronting the wolf also means a confrontation with ourselves: “It is important that we debate values openly”, he says.

The Italian province of Trentino, which is home to bears in addition to wolves, aims at peaceful co-existence with these large carnivores. There are annual reports, an informative website and funding for theses on the subject because, alongside effective herd protection and compensation measures, sustainable wolf management above all requires an educated population.


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“The wolf is back. A human exhibition” is being staged by the University of Zurich and the Alpine Museum from 30 June 2018 to April 2019 at the Lucerne Natural History Museum and can be seen from May 2019 in the Zernez National Park Centre. The accompanying publication can be ordered via [email protected]

Filed under: Wolf, alpMedia 5/2018