Neither Big Nor Bad, the Wolf Returns to Western Europe

1869: That was the last time a wolf was seen in the Netherlands. Widespread throughout much of Europe in the 18th century, wolves were for all intents and purposes exterminated from there in the 19th century. By the end of World War II, they had disappeared altogether. The “last wolf” in Germany was said to have been shot in 1904.

Large populations of wolves have continued to exist in eastern Europe, in Romania, Poland and the Balkans. As a result of conservationist policies and world politics, the number of wolves has been gradually rising in Germany, France, Sweden and Norway. Earlier in July, the body of an animal that biologists believe is “almost certainly a wolf” was found. The animal had been run over by a vehicle in Luttelgeest in the Netherlands, just about 30 miles from the country’s densely populated North Sea coast.

News reports like this one in the Daily Mail are suggesting that the “big bad wolf” is knocking on western Europe’s door and that it is time to call in the hunters. With wolves now also turning up in Belgium, northern Denmark and off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, there has also been talk, and fear, of wolves coming to Britain. But environmentalists and foresters point out that the return of the wolf is a welcome development.

As the Independent notes, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 changed things significantly for wolves in Europe. The reunification of Germany led to a “radical policy switch,” with the wolf becoming a protected species throughout the country, including its formerly communist east. Under the 1979 Berne Convention (which most European countries have signed), hunting wolves is prohibited.

The wolf is “at the top of the predatory chain” in Europe, says Vanessa Ludwig, a biologist who monitors the growing wolf population in Germany’s Lausitz region, which is near its border with Poland. In the 1990s, wolves began to migrate via Lausitz. The region — “vast, uninhabited and largely road and path-less wilderness, covered with half-grown pine and birch trees” — had once been used for military training exercises by the occupying Soviet army; German troops now use the area much less frequently.

In 2000, a night-vision video camera filmed a pair of wolves with their cub, a sign that the wolf has returned. An estimated 40 wolves now lives in the region. Roe deer, red deer and wild boar account for the majority of the wolves’ diet. Environmentalists and foresters have welcomed the wolves’ return as they help to restore an “environmental imbalance” by controlling the numbers of deer: an overpopulation of these has meant that deciduous trees have been stripped of their bark and that saplings have been eaten.

Sheep farmers, having kept flocks for decades without fear of predators, have been highly concerned about the wolves’ return to say the least. Last year, some 50 animals were attacked. Farmers have been installing electric fences and are keeping Pyrenean sheepdogs to guard their flocks.

There are now an estimated 250 wolves in France, which has raised the limit on the number of wolves that can be killed per year from 11 to 22. Last year, farmers reported almost 6,000 cases of attacks on other animals including pigs and goats as well as sheep and there has been talk of recruiting “specialist hunters” from the U.S. and Eastern Europe to “keep the number of wolves stable.”

As Ludwig notes, wolves fear humans and usually run on encountering a person. No one in Germany, she says, has been harmed by a wolf.

The return of the wolf represents a triumph of conservationist policies. A species can make a comeback even after being altogether eliminated from a region.  The next step should be to figure out how wolves and humans –  modern-day Little Red Riding Hoods, their grandmothers and woodsmen — can live together.

Photo from Thinkstock


Mark Donner
Mark Donner5 years ago

Farmers and ranchers have been destroying our earth and should be considered guilty of criminal acts until they prove otherwiise. They are the lowest class of human being.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

B Jackson
BJ J5 years ago

Good news but now they want to start killing them again.

Deanna R.
Deanna R5 years ago

Yay wolves!! They indeed are very good for thinning out the weakly and sickly among deer populations and population control of deer in general. Great news to know that there are at least 3 smart countries out there. We should learn from them here in the USA.

Robert Fitzgerald

Wolves seem to engender an inordinate amount of fear in us. The wolf is a wild dog, the dog being a very ancient symbol of the Goddess. They were often associated with the death and dying aspect of the Triple Goddess common in matriarchal times. This Goddess was responsible for innocence and purity, for passion and reproduction, and finally for death and rebirth. Perhaps our fear of the wild dog, the wolf, reflects a deep seated fear of the Goddess, a common view in Christian tradition.

Lynn C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Gina Gutman
Gina Gutman5 years ago

In eastern Europe, Italy and many other countries they use guardian dogs, Pyrenees, Akbash, Marremas and many other varieties of this Big White dog. I have an Akbash for my sheep. They are fearless independent working dogs and will take on any predator that threatens their flock. If you have a large flock you need several. Very active at night of course, laze around during the day but still watching. These dogs have been used for centuries and are now becoming more popular here.

Far better than the shooting, poisoning, trapping and any other diabolical way to kill. These dogs just make sure the predators go somewhere else for dinner. After all they don't want to get injured trying to get dinner, can't afford to get hurt. They bark a lot to let the predators know they are on duty when they sense them in the area. These dogs are often raised with the sheep.

Lana Lucic Lavcevic

Oh look!
An animal species has finally recovered and its number is finally rising! Yay! We did it! The protection was really helpful!
Let's shoot them off now to reduce their numbers again.

Human logic.

Maybe to protect livestock they could get better and bigger sheepdogS(more of them and not just one small dog) and/or provide better fences for their animals.

Some time ago a man was on the news talking about a wolf attack. He had a croatian sheepdog and was complaining how the dog didn't do a thing to stop the wolf.
Now, search up the sizes of a croatian sheepdog and compare it to a full grown wolf x2.

Jessica Larsen
Janne O5 years ago

It is estimated that there are 150 000-200 000 wolves in the world today, most of these live in the former Soviet Union, Canada and Mongolia.
In Europe there are probably about 55 000-70 000 wolves, whereof the majority live in Russia and the Eastern Europe. Within the borders of western Europe there are only ca. 3 000-3 600 wolves. In the Nordic countries the population probably consists of about 185-320 wolves, most of them (125-175) are i Finland.
The all-Norwegian wolf population of October 2006 - February 2007 counted 19-23 individuals in 2 family groups and one territory marking couple and a few single individuals. Note that 5 wolves were shot in Norway from February to October 2007.
It is likely that the population has increased a little from 2008 to 2011. In the Kynna territory 11 wolf cubs were seen in the summer of 2010, which is a record number of cubs in one litter. According to Norges Naturvernforbund the population of wolves in Norway counted ca 27-32 animals in the summer of 2010. Which is still too numerous for the farmers who demand to shoot wolves from time to time. Far too often they get slaying permit for one or more individuals. Yes. Really.

David V.
David V5 years ago

Great news........Humans leave them alone!