Wolves could become extinct again in Denmark and other lowland European countries unless the population replenishes itself with migratory animals, according to a new study.
A pack of wolves crossed the border from Germany to Denmark in 2017, ending a 200-year absence of wolves in the country. But 48% of Denmark’s wolf population has subsequently been illegally killed or disappeared, and the shooting is the only plausible explanation.
Wolves have thrived in the lowlands of Europe in recent years, with populations increasing by more than a third annually in Germany between 2000 and 2015. Protected by EU law, German-born wolves have recolonized Denmark, Belgium , the Netherlands and parts of France.
But a study of all 35 wolves, which DNA evidence shows had moved to northern Denmark, published in Conservation letters, has found that mortality rates are 10 times higher than normal in the country. In Schleswig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost state, bordering Denmark, the main cause of death is traffic, especially on the express highways around Hamburg.
In less populated Denmark, there have been no traffic deaths, but only nine of the 27 registered wolves in the country were still alive as of early 2020. Four had crossed south into Germany, one died of natural causes, one was confirmed illegal. . carnage and 12 have disappeared. The life expectancy of a Danish wolf is only two years.
“Unfortunately, it is not surprising. This is part of a pattern that we have seen in many countries. Usually they just disappear and are never found, ”said lead author Professor Peter Sunde of Aarhus University.
Research has shown that the key to the resurgence of the wolf in the lowlands of Europe has been the hunting sanctuary of animals in large areas of military training, particularly in Germany, where they can reproduce undisturbed by persecution. When wolves leave the safety of these restricted areas, they can find a lot of food, even in suburban areas, but they are much more prone to persecution.
According to Sunde, wolves are particularly vulnerable in countries like Denmark, which have many private owners, rather than large state forests like Finland and Sweden. “A wolf for a year will probably meet people hundreds of times, and they only need to meet a hostile person with a weapon once to die,” he said. Environmentalists estimate that the Danish part of the Jutland Peninsula, an agricultural landscape similar to the Scottish lowlands with only 13% forest cover, has room for 10 packs of wolves.
Animals crossing from Germany are not believed to be targeted by sheep farmers, who comprise a fairly small number in Denmark, but rather by hunters who dislike predators for catching deer they want to shoot.
Sunde emphasized that his study did not provide evidence on who was behind the killings of Danish wolves, but added: “Usually it is the hunters who drive this, because they see the wolf as a resource competitor. The red deer hunters have the weapons and can shoot the wolf. That’s where you have a great interest, a lot of money, and also great feelings.
“We have anarchy in a nutshell: a powerful group that can enforce its will through illegal actions.”
Some argue that allowing the “slaughter” of licensed wolves can reduce the rates of illegal persecution by assuring groups such as hunters or ranchers that populations will not be allowed to increase indefinitely. But a study in finland suggested that a legal “harvest” of wolves actually increased the likelihood of illegal killing.
“Right now we have legislation that protects wolves and it is not working because a minority does not follow the rules,” Sunde said.
“The solution must be changing its attitude. As long as there are people who are willing to break the law, it is almost impossible to control this or monitor this because it is a crime that occurs on people’s property. “