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BE: Wolf cubs on way as Belgium becomes ‘wolf crossroads of Europe’

She-wolf in country’s north is pregnant, and newcomers from France or Italy spotted in south

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

A European grey wolf in Germany
 A European grey wolf in Germany. Wolves are moving into Belgium from north and south. Photograph: Raimund Linke/Getty Images

Belgium is becoming “the wolf crossroads of Europe”, a conservation charity has said as it reported new sightings from France and Germany, while Flemish authorities separately announced the imminent arrival of wolf puppies.

Flanders’ environment minister, Zuhal Demir, announced that a pair of wolves in the north of the country were expecting cubs, four months after arrival in the area of a female wolf, Noëlla, who was billed as “a potential new love” for a previously lone wolf, August.

“I am proud to announce that she-wolf Noëlla and wolf August are expecting wolf cubs,” Demir wrote on Monday on her Facebook page, predicting there would not be long to wait. Wolves usually give birth in late April or early May.

The minister vowed that the Limburg province where the wolves have made their territory would be strictly guarded to prevent Noëlla from succumbing to the same fate as Naya, the likely former mate of August, who officials believe was killed by hunters. Naya’s cubs also died, presumed to have been shot by hunters or to have starved.

Over the weekend the charity Welkom Wolf announced that four wolves had arrived in the southern Belgian region of Wallonia in the first three months of the year, bringing the regional total to six. The four newcomers included three males from France or Italy and the first she-wolf in Belgium’s High Fens for 200 years.

Welkom Wolf said a German she-wolf had joined a German male on the plateau of the High Fens, an area of boggy moor and woodland rich in rare plants, grasses and endangered black grouse.

Jan Loos, the managing director of Welkom Wolf, said the female’s arrival would certainly lead to a wolf pack. “You can suppose it because when wolves [of the opposite sex] meet there is no other outcome possible than puppies,” he told the Guardian.

Wolves returned to Belgium in 2011 after being wiped out during the 19th century. The wolves in Flanders are thought to have travelled from lowland Germany via the Netherlands, while the majority in Wallonia have come from French mountain regions. Both groups are from the same species but they have not mixed for more than 200 years.

“These are two different streams of migrating wolves: one stream comes from the north and the other stream comes from the south and they are meeting each other now in Belgium … We seem to have become the crosspoint,” Loos said.

Experts determine a wolf’s origins by taking DNA samples from excrement and matching them to a European database.

Welkom Wolf remains concerned that wolves across Belgium lack protection from hunters. It previously criticised Flemish authorities for not doing enough after hunters were seen in a protected region around the time of Noëlla’s arrival.

Loos said wolves were killed by hunters rather than farmers. “It’s really not that simple to kill a wolf,” he said, referring to the vast range of the typical lone wolf or couple. “You have to spend a lot of time in the woods, you have to be there for hours and days and days. No sheep breeder has time or interest to be there for days and days.”

Farmers are allowed to erect electric fencing to keep out wolves and can claim compensation if sheep are killed despite their efforts.