In areas in Switzerland where wolves return after a prolonged absence and/or where they behave different to expectations, an insecurity can be observed in the local community. This may result in the call for more severe management measures (aversive conditioning or killing), for reliable information on the presence of these animals, on their behaviour, their home range, etc., and for practical guidance on dealing with wolves. For the authorities, it is a big challenge to inform reliably and objectively within a short time on a subject that often provokes strong emotional reactions.
The aim of the project was to analyse the situation of the returning wolves from a communication perspective, and to develop a “toolbox” on how to communicate in the case of appearing wolves and after human-wolf encounters, and which information is appropriate when.
We interviewed the responsible cantonal authorities, game wardens and municipal authorities in six cantons on their experiences with wolves and specially to investigate their communication on wolves. We also analysed existing communication material and checked the relevant scientific literature on the subject.
Results and publications
According to the Konzept Wolf Schweiz , it is the cantons that are responsible for the communication, but municipalities are also often contacted by the people for information. The project showed that the authorities at both levels and in the different cantons show large differences in their experiences, their readiness to communicate on the wolf situation, and in their applied communication measures (e.g. flyers, press releases, SMS-service for sheep owners, public information events).
The head of the cantonal hunting authority is responsible for communication, as well as for being the main contact point for the general public, as well as the media. However for the local community, the most important point of contact in case of wolf presence are the game wardens. They are a very important interface between the authorities and the public, but at the same time have a very difficult task between the mandate of enforcing the law and the demands brought to them from the local people. The municipalities are sometimes more relevant than expected when communicating with the local community. However, this depends strongly on the interest of the president of the municipality in subject, and their definition of their own role. Many have expressed during the interviews an interest for more information, and would be ready to take on more duties in communication, but often lack the capacity and the expertise. Not least of all, the political situation in the canton strongly influences the communication, or rather the possibilities of the responsible authorities to communicate.
A prophylactic information of the community is largely ineffective and reaches only a small number of interested people. The desire for information is awakened in large parts of the public only when “the wolf” appears close-by and they feel personally affected. Often, people react to the presence of a wolf with insecurity or even fear. This makes communication challenging for cantonal and municipal authorities. The public expects an immediate reaction, but normally it takes some time to clarify the actual facts. Sometimes, there is also a simple lack of experience in dealing with this new situation. However, to remain credible, it is important that the authorities communicate only facts, and present only what information is actually known. This is made more difficult by actors with strong pro or anti wolf sentiments, who communicate their interpretation of events immediately and over a variety of channels. In contrast, authorities can not allow themselves to potentially communicate incorrect information based on an insecurity in the facts. The media are often also more on the search for a “story” rather than being interested in spreading matter-of-fact and objective information. They contribute to the largely emotional and consequently polarising reporting on the wolf. As a result, it is difficult to be heard when communicating facts and constructive messages.
The recommendations form the communication project wolf were the following: the cantons should provide base information. In case of new or special events, they should communicate (more) proactively. When wolves are present in the canton, they also should regularly report on the situation. To this end, we created fact sheets on the respective communication tools with their advantages and disadvantages.
The project was financially supported by a charitable foundation based in the Principality of Liechtenstein and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). The hunting administrators, game warden and municipal authorities that gave us an interview were of great help, too.
Project duration: 2016-2018
Study area: whole of Switzerland
Project partner: Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK), University of Zurich
Contact KORA: Manuela von Arx
25 years of wolf presence in Switzerland – an interim assessment
Wolves are entering Switzerland again since 1994/1995. The wolf is an animal that arouses the spirits and causes a rift in the community. The year 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the return of the wolf to Switzerland. The public debate is still shaped by preconceptions and fears. However, the wolf is part of political debates and societal controversies not only in Switzerland, but in all European countries where the wolf returned and where populations recovered in recent years. The 25th anniversary of the return of the wolf to Switzerland is an opportunity for KORA to look back at the evolution of the Swiss wolf population to date, to compile facts and experiences and to compare them with the expectations and fears of the people.
The aim of the project was to make the debate more factual by compiling the experiences mad and the promising approaches of the last 25 years into a coherent and richly illustrated publication and by making realistic predictions for future developments. This shall contribute to the coexistence between humans and wolf and to the conservation of the wolf in our cultural landscape.
To reach the goal, KORA has collaborated with expert colleagues as co-authors. Facts and experiences on wolves in Switzerland over the last 25 years were collected, analysed and compared to the expectations and fears of the people. The development of the Swiss wolf population was examined in the context of the revival of the species over the whole of Europe. Its influence on wild game and domestic animals is also presented. Moreover, the future evolution of the population is discussed and recommendations for the coexistence between humans and wolves in Switzerland are given.
The results of this project were published as KORA report no. 91 in German, French and English: