Wolves are thriving in Germany, according to a new study, which found the animals could soon become part of the natural wildlife across the country.
By Matthew Day, Warsaw
One hundred years since hunting nearly wiped wolves out in Germany, they are moving out from their last bastion in the forests on the Polish border.
While 11 years ago there was one pack, there are now 12, and the return of the wolf to all of Germany, said Professor Beata Jessel, head of Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, is now “unstoppable”.
The two-year study by the agency has surprised experts by revealing that far from requiring vast forests, the grey wolf has started to adapt to the modern environment.
“Wolves do not need wilderness, rather they can rapidly spread in our landscape and fit into the most varied habitats,” said Prof Jessel in an interview with the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
GPS tracking of one female wolf revealed that she built her lair just 500 metres from a busy road and raised her young undisturbed by the traffic.
Two packs, comprising 18 animals all together, now live just 40 miles from Berlin.
“One should thus be prepared for the appearance of wolves across Germany, and use management plans to establish the most conflict-free relations between people and wolves as is possible,” the professor added.
The study also showed the huge distances wolves can travel. One male animal, called Alan by researchers, travelled the 963 miles to Belarus in two months, crossing countless main roads and swimming the Oder and Vistula rivers. This tendency to wander, wolf specialists say, should aid the spread of wolves across Germany.
But canis lupis also face dangers.
Wolves have struggled to shed a reputation forged in centuries of folklore and stories that casts them as sinister and ruthless killers, prepared to hunt down man or beast. This has made them a target for hunters.
Official figures put the total of illegally shot wolves since 1990 at 13 but experts believe the true figure is much higher owing to hunters hiding the carcases.
Road accidents also inflict an annual toll on the population with 17 reported deaths since 2000.