The ever so cheerful Austria with its schnapps, schnitzels and dirndls has been a lot less cheerful since a while. After all, the country is gripped by a surprising verdict made by a judge last month, following a 45-year-old German hiker, who was trampled by cows.
The incident itself dates back to 2014. At the time, the woman followed an existing hiking trail, which, like so many Austrian hiking routes, ran across an alpine meadow with cows roaming free. Frightened by her dog, the cows suddenly attacked the woman. According to some sources no less than 45 cows and calves trampled the poor lady.
It was an unfair fight. And unfortunately the woman lost the battle. Because she was walking her dog with a lead attached to her waist, she could not release herself in time. The cows were in all likelihood mainly aiming at her dog. The fact that they ultimately also had a fatal effect on the woman was a very sad case of collateral damage.
“The fault of the farmer”, the judge ruled, against all odds. He ordered the owner of the cows to pay the surviving spouse and son of the victim a compensation of no less than €180,000 ($204,000). In addition, the farmer must also pay a monthly sum of €1,500 ($1,700) to the family.
This striking verdict was answered by farmers associations with a great deal of dismay. Although they regret the incident, they thought the woman should have known better and let the dog loose before entering the alpine pasture. As an animal lover, she must have known that mother animals can react particularly aggressively to intruders. They think she should have been more conscientious and that she has unnecessarily exposed herself to risks. They believe that the farmer is being punished far too severely for this.
To prevent something like this from happening again in the future, the most logical solution seems to be that the cow pastures should be fenced off from now on. But that opinion is not shared by Elisabeth Köstinger, the minister of sustainability and tourism. She says that the open character of the alpine meadows is one of the “unique selling points” of the country. It is part of the general appearance and charm of Austria. That is why she feels it is better to inform hikers about the behavior of wild animals and to give them advice on how to deal with them.
Apparantly her advice is being followed, as Austria has announced its intention to issue a code of conduct for hikers. The exact content of this code of conduct is not yet known, but it will in any case include a section on dogs. For example, the code will advise you to release your dog when you enter mountain pastures with stray cows.
The code of conduct will be legally binding, which means that if hikers do not comply with the rules, they will not be able to claim damages in the event of an incident.