Germany Struggles with the Return of the Wolf


For a decade now, wolves have been quietly advancing through eastern Germany and may be making inroads across the entire country. But people still haven't learned to live with the predator. Some glorify the wolves, others demonize them and many are simply afraid.

They are scenes one might normally expect to see in the Serengeti. But Franz Graf von Plettenberg has the privilege of watching them from his elevated hunting stand in the forests of eastern Germany.

In his case, though, it's a deer (rather than a gnu) that is walking calmly through the heath, even though the evil killer, a wolf (instead of a lion), is within sight, heading for the forest. It's as though the potential prey can sense that this wolf has already eaten his fill.

Plettenberg, a forest ranger, is responsible for close to 35,000 hectares (86,450 acres) of state-owned forest and open country. His territory also includes a military training area that became famous as the home of Germany's first wolf pack in 150 years.

Plettenberg likes the wolf, because it helps him deplete game populations, an important service because too many deer damage the forest. They love to eat the shoots of tender young seedlings and peel off the bark of larger trees and shrubs -- none of which is good news for someone interested in making money with timber.

There are, however, many hunters don't share Plettenberg's point of view. They see the newcomer as a rival challenging them for prey and for control of the forest. "Until now, when hunters have been challenged to justify what they do, they've argued that it's up to them to do the work of wolves that no longer existed in German forests," says Plettenberg. But now that wolves have returned, hunters are complaining that they are driving away game. Meet One-Eye and Sunny

It's been 10 years since the first pair of wolves crossed the border from Poland and appeared in the sandy and isolated heath of the Oberlausitz military training area in the eastern state of Saxony, where they mated and raised their pups. Two females emerged from this family, which in turn found partners and, since then, have reliably produced new litters year after year.

The two females, which were captured, sedated, fitted with transmitter collars and released, were officially named FT3 and FT1. Scientists have given them more endearing names since then. One female, which has a slight limp and, on the blurred images taken by camera traps, has a dark spot where an eye used to be, was named One-Eye. Today One-Eye sports the belly of an older female between her thin legs. Wolves living in the wild rarely live much longer than One-Eye's 10 or 11 years.

The other female, One-Eye's sister Sunny, has been equally productive. Sunny and One-Eye will likely go down in history as the primordial mothers of Germany's new wolf population. Their clan has been largely responsible for a bounty of some 158 pups. Many of them have died, while others have migrated into the wilds of Eastern Europe. Alan, a son of One-Eye, made it as far as Belarus. Nevertheless, some wolves have remained in Germany and established new families.

Today, close to 90 specimens of Canis lupus are roaming through the eastern German states of Saxony, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. One female, Zora, made it almost as far as Hamburg, where her trail disappeared.

A Stroke of Luck

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