Oostvaardersplassen: where thousands of wild animals died

What is Oostvaardersplassen?

Oostvaardersplassen is a nature reserve which is described as a ‘one-of-a-kind’ reserve, not just in the Netherlands, but in Europe. It is a natural swampy area, which contains ponds, reeds and grass. It’s a fenced area and has been known as the place where nature is undisturbed and wild animals can roam.

In Oostvaardersplassen there are a variety of animals, including (but not limited to), foxes, hares, red deer, seas eagles, Konik horses, bats, butterflies and heck cattle. It’s a beautiful area, which is popular to visit.


Where is Oostvaardersplassen?

Oostvaardersplassen is located between Lelystad and Almere, in the municipality of Lelystad. Oostvaardersplassen is divided into the ‘dry’ area and the ‘wet’ area.

What has happened at Oostvaardersplassen?

A Dutch ‘rewilding experiment’ took place at Oostvaardersplassen. This meant that wild animals were placed in the area and left to their own devices. But what is rewilding? I’ll give you the lowdown. Rewilding is basically the act of restoring an area of land, to its natural ecological state. This means that wild animals are reintroduced to the area, that once may have disappeared, due to human influences. It’s basically a way to have areas that aren’t influenced by us, and means that we can have more wild animals in our area.

Sound like a good idea? In this instance, think again. Oostvaardersplassen and the Dutch state forestry organisation are under fire, for the chaos that has been happening there during this past winter (you may have been following this story). But as the reserve is in general, unregulated (in the sense that there won’t be any interference), the animals were left to multiply. That, along with the very cold and unpredictable winter, meant that a lot of the land died. This led to thousands of animals dying of starvation at the Oostvaardersplassen.


Protests and anger at the Oostvaardersplassen

It was taken so badly that people were tossing bales of hay over the fence, in order to feed the animals. The horrendous and shocking images that emerged of the animals starving, understandably led to an uproar, with an official report slamming the experiment and protesters flocking to online platforms and to the place itself. (Check the reviews on Google to see what people are saying about it). The nature reserve is also being described as ‘an Auschwitz for animals.’

So, what went wrong at the Oostvaarderplassen?

Over half of the Konik horses, Heck cattle and red deer were slaughtered, because they were found starving to death. To put this into perspective: 5,230 of these 3 species were found (after a few mild winters) – this was then cut to 1,850 after the cold winter this year, due to deaths. 90% of these deaths were from the forestry organisation, who shot them due to their starvation.

The weather is impossible to predict, meaning that the landscape was not prepared for a cold winter. It’s wrong to assume that the landscape would not die. That really demonstrates the importance of monitoring the levels of animals at all points. Of course, whilst it sounds nice to be able to have an area ‘untouched’, in situations such as these, the idea of placing them in a fenced (yet large) area is technically still a human influence. Therefore things can still go wrong. In this situation, it did just that.

What now?

There was been a call for a cap on how many large animals are present there, by the provincial government (to 1,500 – half of what it is now). This is to help prevent this from happening again. They also want a new forested area so the animals can shelter easier.

Some call this experiment a fail and some say it’s not an experiment at all. Some ecologists simply call this ‘life and death’ and that we should not be so sheltered and hide away the dead animals and the landscape. They believe that if more of the reserve was opened up to the wider public, that we would be able to see the real story, and see it from their point of view.

Of course, whilst most of us agree that it’s meant to represent a ‘wild’ landscape. We have still fenced it off, meaning that although the area is large, there are still limitations when the population grows. In this instance, can it still be considered a wild area, to let the ‘circle of life’ run its course if there is a fence all around it? Who’s to blame here? Is anyone to blame? You tell me your thoughts!

It’s a sensitive topic and for some, quite upsetting. What do you think about this? We would love to hear your views. 

Emma Brown
A familiar face at DutchRevew. Emma arrived in Holland in 2016 for a few weeks, fell in love with the place and never left. Here she rekindled her love of writing and travelling. Now you'll find her eating stroopwafels in the DutchReview office since 2017.


  1. Animals put in a area they didn’t choose to be in, with a fence around it can never be called wild. Its ridiculous. Horses would never choose to live in a swamp. The situation is so bad for the animals, still. Nothing grows. Too many stallions in a too small space, always fighting and getting injured. Many of the mares died of starvation this winter so there is no balance between mares and stallions. The stallions can’t emigrate. They are locked in behind a fence, in a place where nothing but weed now grows. Dead trees and dead animals everywhere. This is nothing wild or romantic with Oostvaardersplassen. It only pure animal cruelty and nobody is doing anything to help the animals! It needs to STOP NOW!


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