Fight against German fears as wolf howls again
25 August 2003
OBERLAUSITZ, Germany – Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Germans are. A
century after hunters killed the last wolf in Germany, the creatures are
stealing across the border from Poland, stoking long-dormant fear and
While the wolf is a potent symbol in many cultures, Germans have a
particularly intense relationship with the grey predator that was revered
for its hunting prowess by the Germanic tribes and later the Nazis, but is
demonised in many popular legends.
Wolf is a common surname and dozens of German towns and villages have wolf
in their names. One striking example is Wolfgang Wolf, the former trainer
of VfL Wolfsburg soccer club.
Nature lovers who welcome the wolf’s return have a hard job winning
support in the densely-forested country which gave the world the tale of
“Little Red Riding Hood” and her encounter with the wicked wolf who
disguises himself as her grandmother.
The Protection Society for German Game has declared 2003 “Year of the
Wolf” and a concerted campaign is underway to educate hostile hunters and
shepherds and protect livestock.
“There are some who unreservedly celebrate the return of the wolf and see
it as enriching biodiversity, but there are also those who see it as
damaging and a great danger,” said Michael Gruschwitz of the Saxony
Environment and Agriculture Ministry.
“There is a perception that the wolf is an animal that can be dangerous
for people and pets. We want to get rid of this ‘Little Red Riding Hood’
syndrome so we have to deal seriously with the concerns and needs of the
“We are trying to present an objective picture of the wolf — how he
really is, that he is very shy of people, that he avoids people and that
there is no danger for anybody who goes walking in the woods with children
or a dog,” Gruschwitz said.
OLD FEARS REVIVED
Germany’s last wolf was shot near the town of Hoyerswerda in 1904 after a
campaign of extermination lasting centuries. Wolves were also wiped out in
most of the rest of northwestern Europe, Small populations survived in
Spain and Italy.
A few crossed into East Germany in recent decades but were all killed or
captured, the state declaring they had no place in a modern, industrial
country. Since German unification in 1990, wolves have been protected, but
several have still been shot.
Following an ancient migration route from Poland, a wolf settled in the
Oberlausitz military training ground in Saxony in 1995, not far from
Hoyerswerda. In 2000, its cubs were born there — the first on German soil
for a century — and some of those offspring moved further west on
That is when the trouble began. Last May, those wolves attacked a flock of
sheep, killing or injuring 33 and sparking calls for the predators to be
driven out of farmed areas.
The attack prompted the Saxony government to set up a project to track the
newcomers, help shepherds safeguard their flocks and educate game hunters
and the local population.
“It is important to talk about wolves so people get to know them. Much of
the fear and resentment comes from the fact that they are foreign,” said
Gesa Kluth, a biologist researching the Saxony wolf population and leading
the education drive.
There have been no attacks on sheep since last year and Kluth’s “Lupus”
project is slowly winning over nervous locals.
Ines Kowal, a 39-year-old mother who lives opposite Kluth’s office in the
village of Neustadt near the military training ground, welcomes the
efforts to protect the wolves.
“There were always wolves in this region but I wouldn’t like to be
confronted by one myself,” Kowal said. “We need to keep the balance so
that people and animals can live together.”
Kluth and fellow biologist Ilka Reinhardt scour forest paths for wolf
tracks and droppings and imitate wolf howls to try to provoke a reply.
They had to wait months to see the animals themselves and rely on
foresters and hunters for much of their information.
A cameraman from German television spent 240 hours over several months at
the military training ground before he captured the wolves on film. While
visitors are lucky to see a paw print, let alone a live wolf, Saxony’s
Gruschwitz believes the Lausitz region can benefit from the return of the
“If wolves can live and reproduce, like they can in the Lausitz, it is a
good sign for nature. This kind of unique environment can be used to
promote tourism,” Gruschwitz said.
A Neustadt resident who runs children’s nature activity holidays has
organised one with a wolf theme, the region is printing wolf postcards and
a company in the Lausitz area is planning a new raspberry liqueur called
“Wolf ‘s Howl”.
Kluth and Reinhardt’s work erecting special fences to protect sheep as
well as state guarantees of compensation for any livestock lost to wolves
have won over many shepherds.
With each wolf needing up to 1,500 kg (3,307 lb) of meat a year, the
animals are serious rivals for the private hunters who pay big fees for
rights to shoot deer and other game. But the Lupus project hopes they can
learn to put up with the competition.
“We hunters in the affected region can live with the wolves,” Siegried
Buchholz told the German Hunting Newspaper. “Game losses are not so
serious yet where we are.”
Reinhardt said Germany’s nascent wolf population is at a critical stage.
Left undisturbed, it will probably spread further, but the loss of just
one female could mean its demise. The researchers believe two pairs
produced cubs this spring.
“It is recognition that protects the wolves. Hunters who are critical know
theirs is not the opinion of the majority,” she said. “There is more than
enough game for hunters and wolves.”