Germany's wolf population on the rise, new data shows

Nature and Environment

From persecuted to protected

Since the 15th century, wolves have been systematically persecuted, particularly in western and central Europe. By the 19th century, human hunters had almost wiped the species out completely. Now the animals are strictly protected, and it is illegal to catch or kill them.

Nature and Environment

Gradual comeback

According to new data from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), there are currently 60 packs of wolves living across Germany — 13 more than in 2016. Researchers also recorded 13 wolf couples and three sedentary single wolves, amounting to 150-160 adult animals in total.

Nature and Environment

Enemy on the roads

Road traffic poses the biggest threat to wolves: 140 of the around 200 dead wolves since 2000 were killed in vehicle accidents.

Nature and Environment

Hunted down

In addition to road traffic, Germany's wolf population has also been targeted by illegal killings. According to official figures, 26 wolves have been shot dead in recent years, including five over the past 12 months alone.

Nature and Environment

Early deaths

Wolves can live up to 13 years in the wild. However, only about half of all wolf pups actually survive beyond their first year. Canine distemper or mange mite infections can be fatal to weak immune systems — especially in cases where the puppies are malnourished. Pups also have a slim chance of survival if their parents are killed.

Nature and Environment

A problem for farmers

While wolves aren't known for attacking people, they have been blamed for killing sheep. Farmers have tried to protect their land with electric fences or livestock dogs. If their animals are killed, German farmers are eligible for compensation. Some livestock owners and hunters want permission to shoot wolves to protect their animals, but conservation authorities say this is simply not an option.

Nature and Environment

The friendly wolf?

Tatjana Schneider (pictured) knows wolves well. She manages the Werner Freund Wolf Park in Germany's western Saarland region, where she conducts behavioral research. Our pet dogs are domesticated versions of the wolf, and in some cases it's hard to tell them apart. One key difference, though, is that a wolf's muzzle is usually slightly longer than that of a domestic dog.

Researchers have found 60 packs of wolves living across Germany. That's 13 more than last year. The news is likely to frustrate some farmers who believe the predators are dangerous and attack livestock.

The number of wolves in Germany has grown, according to data released Wednesday by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the Documentation and Counseling Center of the Federation of the Wolf (DBBW).

Nature and Environment | 31.08.2017

The researchers, who counted the wolves by analyzing photographs of traps, animal feces, and other traces, found 60 packs are now living across the country, which is 13 more than a year ago.

Overall, there are between 150-160 adult wolves in Germany, Beae Jessel, the president of BfN told reporters in Berlin. A year ago, there were estimated to only be around 140 wolves and 47 packs.

Read more - Germans divided over return of the wolves

Tiere Wölfe in Sweden

The number of wolves in a pack varies, but is normally between three and 11

In recent months, farmers and activists have clashed over the management of wolves. Farmers argue the predators have attacked their farms and killed their sheep since their reintroduction to Germany in 2000. 

Read moreManaging wolves in Germany: A toothy job for tough ladies

Controversial predators

The animals are protected by strict laws in the country, because they are an endangered species. As a result, killing them is prohibited. But the ban was recently lifted for a specific pack in the forests of Upper Lusatia on Germany's border with Poland, sparking protests from activists.

Many livestock owners and hunters want permission to shoot wolves, especially if their animals are under attack. However, animal rights activists and the BfN say this should not be allowed.

Read more - Wolf advocates fight prejudice as predators return

Environmentalists say electric fences or livestock dogs could be used to protect farmland instead, adding that even if wolves do kill sheep, they are not automatically a danger to humans.

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"We do not know of any single attack on humans since wolves have been back in Germany," BfN President Jessel said.

Growing numbers in Germany's east

Most wolves were recorded in the eastern German states of Brandenburg and Saxony, and Jessel says that, despite multiplying in number, they are keeping to the northeast of the country.

Wild wolves were eradicated from Germany at the end of the 19th century. But in 2000, wolves from neighboring Poland moved west in search of new territory and crossed the German border.

Road traffic is the biggest danger to the animals: 140 of the around 200 dead wolves since 2000 died in road accidents. From May 2016 to April 2017, five wolves were reported to have been killed illegally.

Read moreTransylvania's wolves face uncertain future

The debate over the management of wolf populations has raged across Europe in recent years. Many governments allow controlled killing of the animals to prevent illegal hunting. 

On Tuesday, a Norwegian court issued an injunction temporarily stopping the hunting of 12 wolves in the Oslo region at the request of the World Wildlife Fund.

Nature and Environment

Eternal love?

Wolves are said to mate for life, but it is a contentious claim, with some suggesting that while they are relatively loyal animals, it is also perfectly normal for an alpha male to mate with more than one female.

Nature and Environment

Bloodthirsty savages?

Wolves have been depicted over time as ferocious animals that prey on people, and children in particular. Conservationists say there is no reason man can't live in peace alongside wolves.

Nature and Environment

Howling at the moon?

Legend has it that wolves howl at the moon, but scientists refute this claim, saying they actually just lift their heads because it enables the sound to carry better. The animals are known to howl in order to assemble their pack, attract a mate, mark territory, scare off enemies, signal alarm, or communicate their position.

Nature and Environment

Hunting together

Wolves don't only live in packs, they also hunt as a team. While a single wolf can catch and kill smaller deer or mammals by itself, if they work together, they can prey upon larger animals such as moose or elks.

Nature and Environment

A lone wolf

A wolf that has been driven from the pack - maybe as a result of sickness or weakness - or decides to leave by itself, is known as a lone wolf. These animals are said to howl less as a means of keeping themselves off the radar of other nearby packs.

Nature and Environment

Forever on the road

Wolves are travelers, covering areas of between 30 to 50 km per day, and more if they don't find food. Their territories range in size, depending on the size of the pack and the density of prey within it, but average between 150 and 300 square km.

Nature and Environment

Cute little pups?

On average, wolves give birth to litters of between 6 and eight pups. They are born in dens which the pack's alpha female chooses during the 63-day gestation period. The babies are weaned after eight weeks, when they begin eating solids in the form of regurgitated food from the adults.

Nature and Environment

Safety in numbers

Wolves live in packs of between six and ten animals. The hierarchy is strict, with each pack headed by dominant alpha male. He, and his mate, the alpha female, are the only animals in the pack that breed, but all the adults help to take care of the pups.

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