Return of the Wolves | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.04.2002
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Return of the Wolves

A rare species has made an quiet appearance again in Germany after almost 150 years. A wolf pack spotted recently in east Germany has raised hopes of a revival of the population of the stealthy creatures.


They're back

For almost 150 years, wolves were considered a extinct species in Germany. Now the sure-footed predators are showing up again in Northeastern Saxony, at the borders between Poland and the German state of Brandenburg.

In October last year, a wolf pack with young cubs was spotted at Oberlausitz, where the German army usually carries out its drills and military manoeuvres.

The remote landscape, which covers some 20,000 hectares, has vast forests, moors and heaths and an abundance of wild prey.

The return of the wolves and the fact that they have produced offspring has caused a stir among environmentalists and game researchers in Germany. They have now begun following the traces of the nocturnal carnivores.

Much like detectives, zoologists and wolf researchers can determine much just by following on the heels of the wolf pack.

For instance footprints reveal how old and large the animal is. Remnants of the wolf’s kill, its howling as well as wolf droppings are rare treasures for researchers. They can read these much like a book and conclude much about their lives and habits.

Wolves were hunted and killed in Germany to the point of extinction in the 19th century.

Making a comeback

But in the 1980s a small wolf population settled in western Poland. Since wolves are migratory creatures and travel at lightning speeds at night covering anything between 20 and 200 kilometres, wolves periodically made forays into Germany.

They mainly appeared in the states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Unfortunately most of these beasts were overrun by cars or shot illegally by hunters.

By nature wolves usually follow centuries-old migratory corridors 50 to 80 kilometres wide when they seek new sources of food or a mate.

They move westward along the old valleys that were left at the end of the Ice Age by retreating glaciers. Experts estimate that the present wolves probably came across the Neisse river from Poland, either by swimming or by walking across the ice in winter.

The biggest concern of organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Germany now is to protect the new wolf pack and ensure that people don’t shoot them in panic.

"In the long run we can count on wolves repopulating much of east Germany – if humans let it happen", says Frank Mörschel of the WWF.

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