Germany Struggles with the Return of the Wolf


By now, it is clear that wolves are here to stay. No one is prepared to make a reliable prediction, but it is quite possible that the predators will advance into the Central German Uplands, including the Harz Mountains, as well as the Taunus, Eifel and Westerwald, three low mountain ranges in western Germany. In these areas, as well as in Bavaria and the southwestern states of Baden-W├╝rttemberg and Saarland, they could encounter their cousins from Italy and France -- which, from a genetic standpoint, would be a stroke of luck for the German wolf population.

A wolf from the Mediterranean region was spotted in Bavaria as recently as this spring, and one of the Italian wolves even made it as far as the central German city of Giessen, where it was hit by a car. It hasn't been seen since. In July, one of the southern wolves triggered a camera trap in France's Alsace region, only 60 kilometers (38 miles) from the southwestern German city of Freiburg. Germany's Federal Agency for Nature Conservation estimates that the country could support as many as 440 packs.

Germany is becoming a home for wolves. The gray predators are on the increase throughout Germany as they are across the Continent. It's just that not all of the country's human inhabitants are happy about it.

No other animal has as many friends and foes, or is the source of so much friction. The presence of wolves is turning upright citizens crooked and driving otherwise well-mannered conservationists berserk, triggering a wave of harassment, denunciations and lawsuits. Politicians, biologists, forest rangers, hunters, farmers and even city dwellers are involved.

Near-Mythical Creature

The church once saw the wolf as the devil incarnate, and fairy tales, from Little Red Riding Hood to The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, taught children to fear the wild creature. Wolves were treated as vermin: shot, poisoned and bludgeoned to death. Canis lupus was hounded into near-extinction throughout Central Europe, turning it into a near-mythical creature that existed only in fairy tales.

There is no justifiable basis for our fear of wolves. The predators usually do not attack people, unless they are rabid or have been emboldened as a result of being fed. But rabies is considered eradicated in Germany, and so far Germans have not been crazy enough to offer the animals bowls of freshly slaughtered meat on their doorsteps.

But the debate over wolves is rarely pursued by means of logical arguments -- neither in Saxony nor other places where wild wolves are likely to be roaming forests and fields in the near future.

The situation in the Lausitz region south of Berlin is a case in point. It illustrates what happens when the gray predators have come to stay, and how irreconcilable their fans and enemies still are after more than a decade.

Now the two opposing mindsets have a new reason to be at odds. Saxony's environment minister, Frank Kupfer, recently announced that wolves would in the future fall under the law which regulates hunting, which would mean that hunters, too, would be responsible for the protection of the animals. This has triggered outrage among many conservationists, who feel that hunters are nothing but potential wolf murderers. In their view, hunters abide by three rules when it comes to wolves: shoot, shovel and keep quiet. In fact, since the wolf became indigenous to Germany again, seven animals have been shot, most recently in the Lausitz region in May.

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