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The Western Expansion of Europe's Wolf Population


Last year, we wrote about Germany’s growing wolf population and how, despite increasing pressure on the German federal government from the rural community, education is being used to dispel a millennia of mistrust for this resilient mammal that was once common throughout Europe. Well, Europe’s flourishing wolf population is hitting the headlines again and this time the news is not as far away as Germany…

It’s fairly safe to say that being the second working day of the year, the 3rd January 2018 probably passed without incident for most of Belgium’s 11.5 million citizens. Yet, unknown to most, this was the day that a female wolf called ‘Naya’ slipped across the Belgium border from the Netherlands, ending not only a 100-year absence from this western European country but simultaneously re-occupying the last remaining mainland country in Europe.

Naya, which means ‘new’ in Arabic, is a two year old wolf who was born between the German cities of Hamburg and Berlin. At the age of six months, she was collared with a tracking device by researchers at the Technical University of Dresden (Germany) and has been continually tracked by scientists at the university who wish to better understand the ecology of this remarkable mammal. The research project is already uncovering some interesting facts about Germany’s wolfs because despite being collared at an early age, it wasn’t until October last year (a year after being collared) that Naya left her parental pack in Lübtheener Heide and began her trek westwards towards Belgium.

To some the arrival of Naya in Belgium might be a cause for celebration, while for others it heralds the arrival of serious apprehension, particularly as Naya’s journey from Germany was not without incident - having killed two sheep and injured a third near the small town of Meerhout. However, from the current anti-wolf sentiment circulating around Europe, what is clear is that there is a very long way to go in terms of rehabilitating the wolf’s vilified reputation, despite receiving strict legal protection under European legislation. Even more worryingly, as a result of political* lobbying, many countries want to start controlling their wolf populations, just like Finland and Norway, who have taken steps to cull their wolf populations this winter, despite legal challenges from the WWF.

So what will be the fate of the lone wolf ‘Naya’? Well, it would appear that perhaps she is capable of sensing future conflict because she has chosen to settle in a large military area near the Belgium/Dutch border town of Leopoldsburg. The fact that she has chosen to settle in a military zone is not unique nor is her choice of a sparely populated habitat - wolf populations in Germany and Austria have occupied similar areas. However, what it is interesting is that scientists at the Technical University of Dresden believe Naya is seeking to minimise contact with humans – a behaviour that is mirrored in many other European countries. It may be for this very reason that Naya passed over the opportunity to settle in several suitable natural parks (in the Netherlands) on her route to Belgium – simply too many people. It is also likely that military areas support a greater abundance of natural prey items such as rodents, hare and roe deer - prey items that were also found dead along Naya's route from Germany.

* Accusations have been levied at politicians in Norway who have been accused of deliberately vilifying the countries wolf population in order to gain votes from the rural communities.

Image Credit: Pixaby Users (MIH83 & Pixel-Mixer)

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