THE RETURN OF WOLVES – EUROPE

 

Editor’s note: When I learned that Andrea Klemer was working with wolf education in her home country of Germany at about the time a new wolf pack was discovered to be residing in California for the first time in nearly 100 years, I thought it would be interesting for readers to see how Germany is handling the recolonization of wolves compared to the U.S. and, in particular, California. Andrea enthusiastically responded to my request, so here appears two stories of wolves returning to their native habitats almost 6,000 miles apart. (Sarah Elliott)

To read the parallel story of the comeback of wolves to California, click here.

 

Historic development of wolves in Germany

One of the most famous fairy tales— Little Red Riding Hood (“Rotkäppchen”) by the German Brothers Grimm (18th century), with the little girl’s grandma and the girl herself eaten by a wolf — was all that was left of wolves in Germany… until recently. In Germany, wolves (Canis lupus — European Grey Wolf) were historically hunted, first because they were a competitor for human hunters, then, second, when people became farmers and ranchers, for killing their livestock and game.  

In the middle ages, people had no social system to help them financially. Many ranchers were poor and sometimes only possessed one or very few pieces of livestock, so losing livestock to wolves could have been devastating for these families. In historic documents we read about annual day-long battues (hunts) on wolves, in which they used ropes with rags tied around them to push the wolves into small areas where they were easy to shoot and kill. 

Hunting in Germany used to be the privilege of kings and dukes over a period of centuries and was forbidden for common people. And since the common people often were not allowed to own weapons at all, people either poisoned wolves or used cruel traps (like the wolf rod) to catch wolves and earn head money. 

All this led to the extinction of wolves in Germany like in other European countries. The last wild wolf was killed in Germany in 1904. 

Generations of Germans have not had contact with wolves and only know the wolf from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Generally, the wolf is shown as a bad animal, sometimes even as evil in historic documents and encyclopedias. 

Also, Germans today have no experience with other predators like bears, mountain lions, coyotes, or lynx (a few radio-collared ones are here now). So, for Germans, the return of the wolf means a big change in wildlife and nature.

 

Current developments of wolves in Germany

In 1998, the first wild wolves were spotted in Germany, probably coming from Poland, its eastern neighbor. When the Wall between East and West Germany came down (1989), the Iron Curtain fell and many border fences were removed over the years within Europe. 

The wolf was able to travel westward freely from areas where it had escaped extinction.  Since Europeans now give nature and big predators the right to exist, new laws came into effect, protecting the wolf in most European countries and regions. 

They are protected by the Bern Convention Act (European and some African countries), the European Flora-Fauna-Habitat Laws, and German Federal Nature Protection Laws. In 2000, the first wild pups were born in Germany. 

In 2015, Germany celebrated 15 years of wolves with a total of about 35 packs and around 400 wolves. They mostly live in less populated areas in the north and northeastern parts of Germany and like the abandoned military tank training areas and explosive testing ranges, as well as those still in use. 

The wolves do not seem to care about explosions and noise there. They are opportunists and can get used to many different surroundings.

 

Social aspects of the return of the wolf to Germany

Germany is a little smaller than California in size but with more than double the population. This automatically creates conflicts between the wolf and humans. 

As in many countries, there are people in favor and people against the wolf. Ranchers fear for their livestock, horse clubs and boarding stables for their horses, hunters for their game. 

Since it’s the law that the wolf is a protected species, it is now up to the efforts of politicians, state forest officials, nature conservancy representatives, and others to educate people on how to deal with the wolf. The goal is a peaceful coexistence. 

For that, many German States have created funds that guarantee reimbursement for ranchers if they lose livestock to a wolf. Often the reimbursement requires the ranchers to have livestock-safety measures in place like approved electric fences plus special livestock guardian dogs. 

Many people (even some of the experienced hunters) get scared when they see a wolf and do not know how to act correctly. Therefore, it is important to educate people that the wolf naturally tends to avoid people, that humans are not part of their diet, and that there are proven ways to successfully protect livestock from the wolf. 

 

The role of NABU

The NABU (Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union) is Germany’s oldest and biggest nature conservancy association and is very active in educating people. Founded in 1899 with currently 540,000 members — U.S. president Woodrow Wilson joined in 1912 — the NABU today has 85,000 Facebook wolf friends and 2,000 Wolfspaten (wolf sponsors). 

It also has 400 certified volunteer “Wolf Ambassadors” throughout Germany who visit preschools, kindergartens, schools, town meetings, hunter and rancher groups, and more to educate about how to coexist with wolves.

 

Hunters and scientists

Germany does not have a hunting-tag system like that in the U.S. To become a hunter in Germany, one has to take part in extensive clinics, which can take months, and pass difficult exams. 

Hunters pay a usage fee for regional areas in which they take care, monitor, and hunt a specific number of game allowed over a multiple year period. They sell part of their game. 

Here mostly deer (roe), wild pigs, European mouflon (a wild sheep breed not native to Germany), rabbit, birds, and other game animals are hunted. Many hunters don’t like to see the return of the wolf because they fear there will be less game to hunt for them. 

Their fear is unfounded since the number of game killed by hunters has not decreased in areas with wolf populations. 

Also, the number of prey directly influences the number of predators. Wild pigs have increased rapidly in numbers (as well as the damage caused by them) over the last years because of much more cornfields and milder winters, so there are actually too many wild pigs for the hunters to hunt. Here the wolf could become a regulator. 

The wolf population in Germany is watched closely by various scientific institutions and state and government organizations. Radio-collared wolves help scientists gain knowledge on their behavior. 

Specialists, professors, and scientists from all over the world come to Wolfsburg, Germany, regularly for the International Wolf Conference to exchange the newest research.  

 

The wolf in southern Germany

In the author’s area of Württemberg in southern Germany, the last wild wolf (before their return) was killed in 1847. Now, after their return to Germany, only two wolves have been recorded in this state. 

One was near Lahr at the Rhine River (close to France). In June 2015, it was run over by a car. 

In November 2015, another male wolf was run over near Merklingen (east of Stuttgart) on the Autobahn A8, about 30 minutes from where the author lives. 

By using DNA testing it was determined that these two wolves were brothers and originated in Switzerland, a country south of Germany. Experts hope that these Swiss wolves (Alpine population) will one day meet the East European (Polish/Balkan populations) wolves to increase the genetic variety of the European Grey Wolves. 

It is not known how many more wolves are currently in the area of the Swabian Alb (where the author lives) but it is likely more lone male wolves will pass through in search of a female mate, like maybe in Münsingen, where there is a former military tank training area currently used for grazing up to 40,000 head of sheep. 

 

Protecting livestock

Many shepherds are still at least part-time wandering (nomadic) shepherds. When the shepherd goes home for the night, the sheep are fenced in with portable fences (different place every night).  

With the return of the wolf these shepherds now have to find ways to secure their sheep. The NABU started research projects in the author’s home state together with the sheep breeders’ association on using protective electric fencing and livestock-guardian dogs. 

There are historic breeds of dogs that are specifically bred to protect livestock. A few of these breeds are Kangal, Caucasian Owtscharka, and Tibetian Mastiff. 

These dogs are not to be confused with herd dogs. These livestock guardian dogs are big and usually white or light-colored (to distinguish them from a wolf at night). They live with the sheep from puppy age on. 

They do not live with people so are therefore more inclined to  defend “their” sheep against enemies like wolves. Holger Benning, who lives in wolf country and is a breeder of German Grey Heaths, has said, “One dog is no dog”  — meaning  there needs to be at least two dogs per herd. 

These dogs have not been used in Germany for more than a century, so ranchers and shepherds are reacquainting themselves with these breeds and how to use them.

 

Personal thoughts of the author

Being a former foreign exchange student in Three Rivers (1987-1988) with ongoing close ties to Three Rivers  (our son Phelan just spent the 2015-2016 school year living in Three Rivers as a foreign exchange student), I always adored Three Rivers for the wildlife that is extinct in Germany. Bears, mountain lions, coyotes, and others have basically always been present in Three Rivers, and many Three Rivers residents peacefully coexist with them (even so, we realize that 2015 was a very special bear year, even for Three Rivers). 

In terms of wolves, which haven’t been in Three Rivers for generations, creating acceptance could be more difficult. This is true for the wolf in Germany, as well as in California. 

For Germany, I hope people will become more knowledgeable and, as a result, more relaxed about the wolf, learning to accept it as part of nature. With the wolf’s return also comes a return of the old livestock guardian dog breeds and the necessary knowledge about breeding and training them. 

We need to be educated and to be open for how nature tries to return and can become a fascinating part of our lives. Only then can a peaceful coexistence between wolf and man in Germany — and California — be accomplished. 

 

The Author

Andrea (Kirn) Klemer, 45, is married to Michael, 45, and they have three children, Phelan, Elis, and Lavinia, and one Epagneul Breton (Bretonic Spaniel) dog named Fido. They reside in Münsingen, Germany. Andrea is a certified western style riding instructor in Germany, approved European Appaloosa horse show judge, tour guide at the historic, state-owned horse breeding facility of Marbach, horse and saddle agent, and offers dog-boarding services. Andrea is a NABU-Germany certified Wolf Ambassador and gives clinics and lectures on “From the Wolf to the Dog” (mostly for children). 

Anyone interested in visiting Germany and perhaps wolf territory may contact Andrea at  AndreaKlemer@SequoiaStables.de for information and help with translation and planning.

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