For CGTN reporter Johannes Pleschberger, the Alps were his playground as a child and are now his spiritual home.

In this second podcast in the series, he continues his unique journey through this majestic mountain range and introduces us to some of the richest flora and fauna in Europe.

This story is part of CGTN Europe's series The Alps: Timeless and changing.

First, we go mushroom hunting with Johannes and his mother Regina, who is a foraging expert. But this isn't always a peaceful pursuit - we find out how the Austrian environmental police are trying to crack down on Italian porcini hunters.

"Edelweiss, edelweiss..." You can almost hear the famous song echo around the Alps, so synonymous has it become with the region.

We learn more about the mountain range's most famous indigenous flower, which shot to worldwide attention after the song about it featured in the hugely popular Broadway show turned movie The Sound of Music, and which has become a symbol of the rugged purity of the Alps.

Who would cry for a wolf? These predatory creatures on the edges of our civilization have long occupied a spooked space in the human psyche and that hasn't changed – they've recently been hitting the Alpine headlines. We ask why these forebears of dogs – apparently humans' best friends – can't shake off their bad-guy image.

Next, we transport you to the only country that is completely contained within the Alps: the tiny landlocked principality of Liechtenstein, covering an area of just 60 square miles. Here we meet Norman Voegeli and his golden eagle Asul, who have a "beautiful," if unconventional relationship.

Then we head north to Bavaria, investigating why the bark beetle is being blamed for destroying vast quantities of Alpine woodland there.

To hear more on these stories, scroll to the top and listen to CGTN's podcast The Alps: Timeless and changing – Flora and fauna.

Farmers vs wolves

By Johannes Pleschberger and AJ Wood

Wolves divide opinion – sometimes straight down the middle.

Wolves divide opinion – sometimes straight down the middle. /Swen Pförtner/dpa voa CFP

Wolves divide opinion – sometimes straight down the middle. /Swen Pförtner/dpa voa CFP

There is a battle being waged in the Austrian Alps between farmers and wolves as sheep that graze there continue to be slaughtered.

However, conservationists have backed the canines and urged farmers to do more to protect their flocks.

Six years ago, Michael Stocker killed a wolf that he claims slaughtered 18 of his sheep after hiding in his farm's stable.

Despite giving a detailed description of the bite marks on his animals, some people are not convinced by Stocker's account.

"These sheep are for us like a dog or a cat. These are our pets. They are bred for years and it hurts when you're standing in front of them lying slaughtered and no one asks about it," Stocker says emotionally.

"Everyone's talking about a dead wolf. So what happened – the sheep died and then I invented the wolf?"  

Stocker also says he was sent threats: "We have received threatening letters. The police even shadowed us for 14 days, because we were afraid they would set something on fire, as they wrote in the letters."

Wolves tend to hunt in open fields during the night where they are able to see their prey, so a field full of sheep would seem an easy target, according to experts.

The wild animals divide opinion across Austria, according to conservationist Bernhard Gutleb.

"We are full of wolves in the towns because the domestic dog is nothing but a wolf. And we love them – and some people love them, I think, more than humans," he says.

"And on the other hand, the wolf is sort of like one of the biggest enemies of our time. And this is somehow very strange because the wolf is not a threat to Alpine farming."

Gutleb doesn't agree the farmers' sheep are like pets: "I think this is just a joke because when they bring down the sheep from the Alpine meadows, they kill the sheep themselves and they sell their meat. So it's not like a pet."

The conservationist has urged farmers to do more to protect their livestock from wolves by erecting fences around the perimeter of the fields as well as bringing in protective dogs to deter them.

And it seems that those who would protect wolves have the upper hand... just about. In a late-September referendum, Swiss voters were asked to judge parliament's suggestions to amend hunting laws – and wolves were at the heart of the debate.

In the end, 51.9 percent of people voted against the proposition, a decision that effectively protects wolves and other species under threat. But the debate rages on.

A Swiss referendum on hunting reform was split, 51.9 percent to 48.1.


Podcast: Johannes Pleschberger, Natalie Carney, Alice Castle, Sarah Parfitt, Elizabeth Mearns and Terry Wilson. Wolves: AJ Wood. Video editor: Pedro Duarte. Graphics and animation: James Sandifer.