After traveling hundreds of kilometres across parts of Europe, Naya has become the first recorded wolf to enter Belgium in at least a century.
“She spent a few weeks in the Netherlands during Christmas and New Years. And then … she passed over into Belgium,” Hugh Jansman, an ecologist and researcher with Wageningen University in the Netherlands told As It Happens host Carol Off. He has been following Naya’s trek.
Naya was trapped by Norman Stier from the Technical University of Dresden when she was six months old and given a tracking collar. At the time, she was living with her parental pack in Germany.
But last October, she set off on her own. Now, Naya has made her home in a large military area near the town of Leopoldsburg in Belgium.
‘Recolonizing former habitats’
The arrival of Naya in Belgium is part of a resurgence of wolves in parts of Europe, explains Jansman.
Wolves disappeared from most of Western Europe starting in the beginning of the 20th century, but have been resurfacing. Last May, researchers reported that the first pack of wolves in 200 years had settled in Denmark.
This is in large part due to the “rewilding” campaign and the 1979 Berne Convention, which considered the wolf a strictly protected species and a “fundamental elements of our natural European heritage.”
“We are in the front of the wave of wolves recolonizing former habitats,” said Jansman.
But not everyone is impressed by Naya’s arrival.
“The emotions regarding the wolves are quite mixed,” said Jansman.
Last week, two sheep were killed and one injured in the Belgian municipality of Meerhout. The incident matches the location and timing of Naya’s travels and this has farmers worried that their animals are at risk.
In the Netherlands, Jansman said there is a wolf management plan. If DNA tests show that sheep were in fact killed by a wolf, the farmers will be compensated by the government. Killing a wolf is not an option unless it is considered a larger risk to the public and cattle.
Naya has been tracked in Belgium, and Jansman said since the report of her appearance became public people have been calling to say they may have seen her. Researchers are now corroborating those reports with her tracker history.
Looking for a mate
Jansman said it is common for wolves to leave their parental pack in search of their own territory where they can find a mate, and that is likely what Naya is doing as she reaches sexual maturity.
It’s unclear if she will find a mate in Belgium though, considering she is the first known wolf to be in the area in at least a century.
“It’s a big mystery. We have no idea how many more wolves are traveling through our country. They can be quite elusive,” Jansman said.
Starting a family
For now, Jansman is hopeful that wolf pups will be in Naya’s near future.
“She has surprised me a lot surviving so much danger on her trip,” Jansman said.
“If a mate manages to find her, she has a perfect spot. And then there is a very big chance she will be a mother in a year.”