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Wolf-hit shepherds call for sheepdog subsidies

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Wolf-hit shepherds call for sheepdog subsidies
Shepherds lead their pyrenean mountain dogs Ben (l) and Carlos past their sheep in Saxony in 2009. Photo: DPA
16:30 CET+01:00
German shepherds are calling for sheepdog subsidies to help them protect their flocks from wolves which are steadily reclaiming ancient territories - and treating themselves to lamb suppers.

Master shepherd Knut Kucznik, chairman of the Berlin and Brandenburg sheep breeders' association, said he and his colleagues had been breeding Pyrenean mountain dogs and Maremmanos to protect their sheep.

"They're the best adapted for the job and they aren't a danger to passers-by," he said.

Figures from Brandenburg's Office for the Environment show that 50 sheep were reported killed by wolves last year, a decrease on 2011 when the figure was 87. So far this year just 26 sheep have been reported as taken by wolves.

But it has not been a steady decrease - back in 2007 just four sheep were registered as wolf victims, a figure which shot up to 71 the following year, possibly due to increased number of wolves in sheep-farm areas.

Brandenburg now runs a hotline offering offer "quick advice and assistance" to "animal keepers who have suffered economic damage caused by wolves," information about which is available in the office's "wolf management plan" brochure.

Officials assess reported wolf attacks and there is compensation in those cases where death is considered to have been lupine.

Kucznik was convinced having the protective sheep dogs was helpful. He told The Local: "Shepherds should be sensible and get properly informed before buying a dog, and make sure they get the right breed."

"But we also want to make it clear to the government how important it is we get support."

He called for the state to subsidise dog costs, telling the Berliner Zeitung newspaper it could cost as much as €2,000 a year for food and veterinary care for each one.

He was at the annual Berlin and Brandenburg "Sheep Day" meeting of shepherds on Wednesday, where concerns over how much guard dogs cost fed into a more general fear about the future of the profession.

"Sheep herding is in decline everywhere in Europe," Kucznic said.

"Shepherds earn between €15,000 and €20,000 a year," he continued, emphasizing that the income was not enough to cover their costs.

"It's already going so badly for us—and then on top of that we have to protect our animals from the wolves…it just isn't working any more," Kucznik  said.

READ MORE: Wolves close in on Berlin

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