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Wolves in Germany find a surprising ally in the army

A young wolf face to face with a tank in a military training ground near to Munster, in Germany. Credits : SEBASTIAN KOERNER / LUPOVISION

Wolves were extremely close to being completely wiped out from Europe during the twentieth century.  Now this species is gradually reestablishing itself.  There are now believed to be around 12,000 wolves across Europe.  Germany has seen its wolf population grow by 32% in a year and according to a recent study the German army have something to do with it. 

Military areas are a stepping stone to recolinisation

Wolves are now a protected species after they were almost completely wiped out from western Europe a few decades ago.  For the last 20 years or so wolves have been recolonising the continent. Packs probably came from parts of Italy or Poland where this predator never really left before reconquering France, Switzerland and Germany.  In this article we’ll look at populations of wolves in Germany. German populations seem to be doing well with around 73 packs.  Recent studies have revealed why.  Many of these wolves have realised that in military training areas they seem to be even more protected.

Military areas are becoming a stepping stone for recolinisation.  What is also remarkable is that these places are more frequented than civil protected areas since the being beginning of the reestablishment process in the 1990s.  However why is this the case?  Ilka Rienhard from the German Institute of Wolf Surveillance and Research in Speewitz has an inkling.

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Credits : Pixabay

Poaching history

Military areas don’t seem to be more beneficial from a purely environmental point of view.  The countryside is the same as what is found in natural reserves.  There are as many forests and roads.  However military areas are chosen for another reason.  By analysing wolf mortality in these two environments, the researcher realised that there was a much higher number of wolves killed in protected areas than those living in military training areas.

The researcher thinks it is all to do with poaching. Although military areas are not enclosed with a fence the public are forbidden entry. Deer populations are managed by dedicated hunters.  However it is very difficult to hunt in a military training camp. However in many natural reserves in Germany the deer population is managed by private hunters.  These areas are also much smaller than military areas.  Therefore there are more hunters confined to the same place.

This hypothesis strongly suggests that wolves who are seen as competition for hunters have been subjected to poaching in natural reserves.  At least they are safer in military areas.  The first couples would have struggled to establish themselves which is why they have looked for safer land.

Based on this study, the researcher recommends that, when decommissioning military training grounds, strict hunting regulations should be maintained in these areas.  If it is less vulnerable wolves could continue to expand and actively participate in the balance of local biodiversity.

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