Here we present you the European wolf in a short portrait.
Name: Wolf (Canis lupus)
Appearance: The wolf has a body length of 110-140 cm; the mostly hanging tail is approx. 35-45 cm long. Wolves have a shoulder height of 70 - 90 cm and weigh approx. 30 to 50 kg. Females are generally smaller and lighter. The fur coat can vary from dark grey to brown-grey with light shades of black. Characteristic is the black saddle patch on the back, the yellow eyes and the white bib around the snout.
Tracks: Typical for the wolf is the energy-saving, direct register trot, which leaves the typical tracks.
Male = male wolf
Female = female wolf
How They Live
Wolves live in packs. This basic social unit consists of a couple capable of reproducing and their offspring (Ø 8 animals). Wolves mate for life and are generally monogamous. Both partners maintain family ties and raise young animals together. The one-year-old pups help the couple to raise the next generation and then migrate to start their own pack using these experiences. Pups are born blind and deaf, with blue eyes. They can only see and hear weeks after birth; their eye colour only changes to yellow later.
The territory of a wolf family is approx. 150-350 km² in size depending upon the landscape and food supply. The area is marked with excrement and urine and defended against foreign wolves. Thus the number of wolves in one area remains relatively constant.
Wolves play an important role in the ecosystem by capturing weak and sick individuals and thus contributing to population health in their territories. With the regulation of herbivores, grazing damage decreases and the diversity and distribution of vegetation changes.
Wolves are predators. In Europe, wolves mainly feed on ungulates (e.g. reindeer, roe deer, red deer, wild boar). If nothing better can be found, small mammals or insects, as well as fruits and berries, or rarely carrion can be on the menu.'Unprotected livestock are easy prey for wolves. If wolves reach the pasture, they kill several livestock as the animals in the fenced area constantly trigger the wolves' hunting instincts. Herd protection is therefore essential in areas with wolves. For more information see: Wolf and Human.
Wolf and Human
Wolves also feed on livestock if they are not fenced in or guarded by sheepdogs. Unprotected sheep and goats are especially easy to prey on - this saves energy. But young cattle without mother cows are also at risk. This is the main topic of social debates and discussions on the conservation status of wolves and their coexistence with humans in the densely populated Europe of our time.
5 measures are being implemented in Europe to protect herds:
- Fencing around pastures (fences or nets)
- Overnight shelter
- Deterrence using barrier tape/rags or light (short term)
Regulating the wolf population as a herd protection measure is only possible in exceptional cases and only under certain conditions, e.g. a favourable conservation status of the population in Europe. Shepherding, housing the livestock at night, electric fences and sheepdogs are indispensable to avoid losses. Young wolves wander long distances in search of territory; unprotected livestock would be easy prey. Many countries support preventive herd protection measures or make compensation payments if the wolves overcome the minimum protections that have been put in place. Some European countries emphasise the payment of compensation in their management plans, whereas others focus on prevention and herd protection in order to reduce conflicts immediately and in the long term. Good management incorporates stakeholders so that solutions can be developed together. But constructing fences, daily checks and mowing the meadow to ensure that the electric fence works take a lot of time and therefore also money.
It is also argued that the protection cannot be implemented in all forms of husbandry, such as sheep farming for dyke maintenance.
A meaningful participatory approach is the co-determination of those affected as to how a more conflict-free coexistence can succeed.
Some farmers propose wolf-free regions where there is a high density of livestock. This would mean that wolves would be hunted within these regions. Counter-arguments say that this makes the migration of wolves - which is important for genetic exchange - more difficult. Moreover, these zones cannot replace herd protection, as new wolves occupy the free territories and attack the unprotected livestock.
Not every herd protection measure is suitable for the same landscape. Individual solutions and compromises often have to be found with the affected farmers.
In areas where there is a minimum level of protection, attacks on livestock decrease.
Dog owners should keep their dogs with them in areas where wolves are present and not let them off their lead. The presence of territorial wolves should also be taken into account when hunting with dogs. Wolves can perceive dogs as competitors for their territory or even as prey and attack them. In the mating season, dogs are also seen as potential mating partners. This could lead to hybridisation (mixing of the genes of dogs and wolves). These hybrids represent a problem for species protection.
However, if a wolf aggressively approaches an owner with a dog, literature recommends the owner leashes the dog for the dog's own protection.
The population development of wolves depends on the availability of prey. Wolves choose their territories according to the availability of their prey. A high population density of prey animals means a good developmental opportunity for the wolf; fewer prey animals lead to a lower reproduction rate. The territory must offer enough prey for the pack over a long period of time, as well as water sources and possibilities to retreat for breeding pups. The relationship between predator and prey is dynamic and subject to natural fluctuations. Wolves usually do not wipe out their prey.
Since the wolf's prey is subject to further influences in our cultural landscape, such as hunting, forestry and disturbances by visitors to the forest, it makes sense to observe the ungulate population. In order to properly document the effects on hunting, the behaviour, reproduction and population sizes, as well as the wolves' habitat use, must be investigated and habitat changes must also be taken into account. Studies to date show that the hunting catch does not decrease when wolves are present - hunters report a change in the behaviour of ungulates (e.g. greater herd formation), which requires an adaptation of human hunting strategies.
First of all: Land use conflicts between humans and wildlife are exacerbated by growing residential areas and infrastructure. Many people are afraid of encountering defensive wild animals such as wolves.
If we use nature for recreation, we must bear in mind that forests and meadows are also the habitat of wild animals. Direct encounters are rare, but can occur.
Have there been any incidents?
Attacks by wolves have only occurred in Europe in exceptional cases when the animals have become used to humans or were infected with rabies.
Studies from North America and Europe show that the likelihood of being injured by a wolf is rather low (e.g. Linell et al., 2002; McNay, 2002). In the few documented cases of wolf attacks, the animals were either habituated (accustomed) to humans, defending themselves or were infected with rabies. However, this disease has not occurred in Germany since about 2007. Deadly attacks on children by wild wolves have been documented especially in India, where the animals cannot feed upon their natural prey due to limited wildlife populations. In 2010, a deadly wolf attack was believed to have taken place in Alaska (Butler et al., 2011). The report stresses the rarity of the incident and points out that wolves are defensive wild animals and that in the event of an encounter, one should keep a safe distance. It also recommends preventing wolves from becoming accustomed to humans.
In Germany, there has been no proven attack on humans since monitoring began in 2000. Human safety is given the top priority in all wolf management plans. By continuously documenting the animals and their behaviour, it is possible to react quickly to abnormal behaviour. The current protection status already allows the wolves to be scared away and, as a last resort, killed in the event of behavioural problems, whether they stand out due to focusing on livestock or a lack of shyness towards humans. Since wolves returned to Germany, this has occurred once in Saxony and once in Lower Saxony. The two wolves were classed as conspicuous because they had become accustomed to humans and the state ministries in each case ordered the two wolves to be shot.
How should I behave?
The correct behaviour and good wildlife management and monitoring play an important role. In principle, it is important to teach children the rules for dealing with wild animals. Young children should always be supervised when in the forest.
How to behave in predator areas at a glance:
- Make noise!
- Respect the animal's territory, do not harass the animals.
- Do not leave any food or litter lying around.
- Keep dogs on a lead.
How to behave if you encounter a wolf?
Remain calm – do not run, but rather move backwards slowly while keeping your eye on the animal. If a wolf still approaches you aggressively despite your retreat, be aggressive yourself - throw objects at it if necessary.
Monitoring and Preservation
Wolves currently live in 28 countries in Europe, from Portugal to Scandinavia and down to the Balkans and Greece. The estimated total number of individuals is approximately 12,000, grouped into 10 regional populations. The monitoring methods for the wolf population include genetic analysis, telemetry, winter snow tracking, camera trapping, elicited howling, collection of presence characteristics (faeces, prey, sightings, tracks) and autopsy of dead animals.
The use of camera traps (Clip: U. Kruse):
Wolves are a protected species in Europe under the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (1979) and the EU Habitats Directive (1992).
The wolf populations have cross-border territories so joint management and conservation measures are therefore crucial for preserving the species in Europe. The first step in this direction was the Declaration of Principles for Wolf Conservation signed by the Wolf Specialist Group of the IUCN (International Union for Natural Conservation) in Stockholm in 1973. This states that "wolves have a right to exist in a wild state in viable populations. This derives from the right of all living creatures to coexist with man as a part of natural ecosystems."
Since then, European countries have been striving for low-conflict coexistence in close cooperation with the populace.
The Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC), in which the wolf is also listed, aims to achieve and maintain a favourable conservation status for all native and endangered species and their habitats.
The conservation status of a species in a biogeographical region is considered "favourable" if:
- The data on the population dynamics of the species suggest that the species is and will continue to be a viable element of the natural habitat to which it belongs;
- The natural range of this species neither decreases nor is likely to decrease in the foreseeable future;
- A sufficiently large habitat exists and will likely continue to exist in order to ensure the long-term survival of the populations of this species (Habitats Directive Art. 1 i).