Image wars

The ethical/biopolitical struggle over the management of the large herbivores at OVP is a seasonally recurring event in Dutch politics. Each winter opponents of the wilderness regime under which the cattle, horses and deer are left to starve rally publicly for an end to this cruel experiment.

Depending on the governing coalition and the Dutch multi party political dynamics sometimes it is decided that suffering animals should be culled earlier or fed hay in times of grass shortage. These debates tend to center around the question of whether the large mammals at OVP are domesticated and in need of care, or wild and to be left alone.

Numerous critics claim that since the animals are the offspring of domestic breeds (see ‘Genealogy‘), live in an enclosed area (see ‘Geopolitics‘) and lack natural predators (see ‘Biopolitics‘), their suffering needs to be prevented. The OVP management however tries to stick as much as possible to a regime emulating wild circumstances, arguing that winter feeding and selectively culling at an early stage would disrupt natural behaviours and ecological processes. They tend to portray the animals not as suffering individuals but as free roaming herds, which are not tracked individually or even counted.

The yearly struggle over this issue to a large extent takes place through imagery. There are several animal activists that have started websites detailing the horrors in the ‘hungercamp’, shooting the animals as they stand behind fences or barbed wire, and publishing youtube clips with dramatic musical scores.

Some public media, such as national newspapers and TV news programs have run stories zooming in on suffering herbivores dying from lack of food. They focus on individual animals in the last moments before they collapse and die.

Other images reveal the artificial nature of the OVP management regime by showing footage of bulldozers dragging away carcasses, appealing to visual memories of the Foot and Mouth and BSE crises.

Deer carcasses removed with heavy machinery at OVP (photo:

Staatsbosbeheer, who are responsible for managing the OVP, has responded by hiring Ruben Smit, a professional photographer who has worked for National Geographic, to produce a glossy coffee table book. These images emphasize herds rather than individuals, living as part of wild landscapes. They stress the ecological role of dead animals by showing carrion eaters feasting on the remains.

‘OVP, Beyond the Familiar Horizon’, book published by Staatsbosbeheer in 2010 (cover image: Ruben Smit)

At the same time the OVP management has tried to be more open to the public by starting a weblog  documeting the activities of the park ranger and a videoblog from the photographer, to spread their view of the area and its events.

In September 2013 a feature film on the OVP ‘De Nieuwe Wildernis‘ (the new wilderness) is cinematically released in the Netherlands.



  1. […] fend for themselves so close to a large human population – where biopolitics and other political motives threaten to interfere in the ecological processes. Thanks to for bringing in the […]

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