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Here is a copy of my letter
Landesrat Dr. Stephan Pernkopf
Landhausplatz 13109 St. Pölten
Austria 3 March 2017
Dear Dr Pernkopf
Otter Cull in Lower Austria
It is with great sadness that we have learnt that the proposed otter cull in Lower Austria is to go ahead. I understand that this in response to appeals from fishermen stating that there are too many otters. I believe the numbers given for that part of Austria is 800 and that originally 80 were to be killed but this has been reduced to 40.
I would like to ask the following questions:
- On what data is the figure of 800 otters based?
We have seen no survey results and so would like to know where this is documented. If the numbers are based on spraint (droppings) surveys there is documented evidence that spraint numbers and number of active sprainting sites do not give an indication of the actual number of otters. (https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jmb/2014/430683/). Unless detailed DNA work has been done it is impossible to quote population figures – if such work has been done I would very much like to see the report.
- What evidence is there that killing 40 will make any difference to the problem?
New otters will just move in to vacant territories and the problem will continue. People in the fisheries need to keep otters out and there has been a considerable amount of work done on how this can be achieved.
- What authority does Austria have for ignoring the legislation protecting otters through the European Union Fauna and Flora Habitat Directive?
- How will Austria avoid being taken to the European Court of Justice for failing to protect this protected species?
Other countries have had infringement proceedings brought against them before the Court of Justice. In most cases this was for failing to protect a species more by neglect, but in this situation you are deliberately allowing the killing the otters.
- Who and how?
If this does go ahead, then who will be responsible for the killing? How will they do it? And how will they determine which animals are to be killed and avoid killing pregnant females and those with young cubs?
The repercussions of this action are widespread. It affect otter populations in neighbouring areas both within Austria and across borders into countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia and probably also into Hungary. But it will also have far wider effects on countries, where fishermen will take this as a precedent for action such as this to be taken in other areas.
Otters are still recovering all over Europe from the disastrous drop in the mid 20th century. There is a lot of mis-information in the media that otter numbers are now high, but there is no evidence to show that, although otters are being seen in more areas, there may not actually be significantly more animals. It is well known that prey availability has been reduced and suitable habitat has been lost. How do we know that animals do not now have to travel further to gain sufficient food?
I look forward to receiving your comments as a matter or urgency.