‘Here a troika, there a troika.’ In a song called ‘Death ride’ by the Swiss-Dutch songwriter Drs. P, a family is driving towards Omsk, pursued by wolves. Dad tries to shake off the pack by throwing the kids overboard one by one. The song is a good illustration of our fear of wolves. That fear is exaggerated, of course. But then so is the future role some people imagine for the animals.
A wolf that turned up in the Netherlands this month met a sad end: it was run over and then carted away in a Wageningen researcher’s car boot. Yet wolves are already being talked about in the press as the natural solution to the damage caused by too many geese. And before that, a spokesperson from nature conservation society Natuurmonumenten wrote – perhaps with the membership of his society in mind – ‘As long as there are no wolves we shall have to go on culling deer.’ Now, I do see more connection between wolves and deer than between wolves and geese, but the underlying simplification here is no different: the arrival of a few big predators will make human intervention in our fauna superfluous. People are eager to believe it.
In the song, the family loses to the wolves. With his destination in sight, even the father is gobbled up. In reality, of course, the wolves are the prey. They have been for centuries. And all things considered, they’ve come through it pretty well. Their capacity to adapt is fascinating and it is going to be very interesting to see how the natural environment in the Netherlands reacts to them.
But are a few wolves really going to keep the wild boar out of the fields or the deer off the roads? ‘Omsk is a lovely city, but just a bit too far...’