Germany Struggles with the Return of the Wolf

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The Warring Camps Hunters, for their part, accuse the so-called "wolf protectors" of idealizing the predator. And why should conservationists be so upset in the first place, hunters ask? After all, they argue, the new hunting laws still don't permit hunters to shoot wolves, so their protected status would remain unchanged.

The real question revolves around who ultimately determines how many wild animals human beings will tolerate in an environment they have largely cultivated and developed.

Conservationists and wildlife biologists have long felt relatively strong, after having won numerous battles. The wolf is strictly protected, and Saxony has a wolf management plan based on European Union guidelines that is so exemplary that Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and, to some extent, Bavaria have already copied it. The government has come to terms with sheep farmers, who are compensated for dead sheep and receive subsidies to install fences and assistance in acquiring special dogs to protect their herds.

Hunters, on the other hand, feel short-changed and are unwilling to cede control over their forests to wolves or conservationists. For this reason, the hunting lobby has convinced Kupfer to place the wolf "under the protection of game laws," as it is phrased. When asked to expound on the issue, Kupfer tends to stress the word "protection."

Swedish environmental journalist Henrik Ekman has written a book describing what it was like when the wolf began to roam through Scandinavian landscapes once again, and about how its enemies demonized the animal while its friends welcomed it with open arms.

All it takes is to substitute German for Scandinavian place names to recognize that the same thing is happening in Germany. In the Lausitz region, the roles in the drama have already been assigned.

THE WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST

Ilka Reinhardt, one of two full-time wolf observers in the Lausitz region, opens the window of her SUV and sticks her head out. She has folded in the side-view mirror because it blocks her sightlines. With the wind ruffling her chin-length brown hair, she scans the ground next to and in front of the vehicle, while crawling along at 25 kilometers per hour (15 mph). Reinhardt is looking for tracks.

There are plenty to be found, crisscrossing the vast sandy soil of the Oberlausitz military training area.

"Hooves," Reinhardt mumbles, "hooves, and more over here." She is referring to the hoof prints of roe deer, red deer and wild boar. Suddenly she slams on the brakes. "There!" Is it a wolf track? "Can't use it," she says. "He was running." When a wolf is walking or running, its tracks are indistinguishable from those of a domestic dog. But the predator does betray its presence when moving at a trot, because it places its paws in a row, like pearls on a chain. Reinhardt nudges the gas pedal and moves on.

She and her colleague, Gesa Kluth, are responsible for monitoring the wolves in the Lausitz region and in Saxony-Anhalt. They drive or bike around the area, carrying tape measures to measure paw prints and the distances between them, sample bags for wolf feces, which is analyzed for genetic research purposes and to study the animals' diets, and memory cards for camera traps.

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