In common with many other countries in mainland Europe, wolves were exterminated from the German countryside at the end of the 19th century. However, thanks to conservation efforts over the last three decades in neighbouring Poland, this apex predator has made a successful come-back, and has now spread westwards into the eastern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg.
Folklaw, ignorance and irrational mistrust have done much to malign the wolf in Europe. However, with confirmed reports of livestock having been killed, is the wolf a welcome neighbour in Germany? Many farmers don’t agree, despite funding being available for fencing and other additional costs, because they say such funding streams do not provide full financial compensation for additional production costs, for example, labour to erect fencing or additional feed for guard dogs, such as the Pyrenean mountain dog. It was for this very reason that german livestock farmers took to the streets of Hanover, in protest over the federal governments lack of willingness to do anything about this issue.
Since the first wolf was recorded on an infra-red camera along the German/Polish border in 2000, the German wolf population has gone from strength to strength, with the current wolf population, as of 2016, estimated at 47 packs (21 pairs). With increasing pressure being put on the German federal government to allow the destruction of problematic animals (an option which is currently prohibited due to the strict protection afforded to wolves in Europe), is this a solution to the issue? Certainly, other European countries, such as Finland, permit the killing of wolves in a highly contentious ‘managed hunt’, despite wolf being a European Protected Species. Yet, the control of problematic animals in Germany might not solve the perceived issue, as the removal of such animals would very likely result in changes to the packs social structure and hunting patterns, meaning that the issue could get worse; not better.
Historical criticism has been levied at the German federal government, which was mostly focussed on a lack of centralised, national policy, co-ordination, funding and research into the on-going issue of wolf expansion in Germany. However, following discussion in the German senate, a new agency was created in 2016, which is tasked with monitoring the movement of wolf populations across Germany, in addition to providing advice to local authorities as to how their residents should interact with wolves.
Notwithstanding the above issues, could the blossoming wolf population in Germany bring any beneficial nature conservation effects to the countryside? Interestingly, research from the US is showing such an effect, following the re-introduction of the North American wolf into the Yellowstone National Park twenty-two years ago. National Park Research Scientists are beginning to suspect that not only does the wolf control herbivore populations in the park, but, despite contention, their presence within the park may also have changed the way herbivores move around the landscape, which in turn is thought to have resulted in an increase in tree regeneration, with additional secondary benefits to other species of animal.
Regardless, as with many other countries in Europe, the German population, like the UK, appears to be strongly polarised on the subject of the wolf. However, what is clear is that the ages old mistrust between man and wolf is still very much alive and kicking, with ignorance, a lack of education and an understanding of wolf’s ecology fuelling irrational prejudice. Ultimately such irrational attitudes distract from the real issues, by drawing away much needed time and resources. However, with a continued expansion of wolf into western Europe, coupled with it's protection under European legislation, it is clear that the wolf has come to stay in Germany, so efforts would be better spent on trying to find ways to live with their old neighbour, rather than repeating history and exterminating the wolf for a second time.
Image Credit: Pixaby (User: Alexas Fotos, Eva Schlomberg & Marcel Langthim)