Germany Struggles with the Return of the Wolf

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The goal is concrete, reliable evidence. Sightings reported by hikers are as useless as the running tracks. Only when Kluth and Reinhardt have obtained hard evidence, such as clear photos from the camera traps, can they record statistics on new pups or sometimes even entirely new packs.

But counting wolves is more than just science. It has also become a profoundly political act. It can safely be assumed that there are few biologists in Germany whose research is as controversial as that being undertaken by Reinhardt and Kluth.

Reinhardt thinks about her nine years with the wolves, about the discussions and the night watches over threatened herds of sheep, and she talks about the time Kluth was attacked by the tabloid Bild, which accused her of wasting taxpayer money on her work. She also mentions the letters calling for the wolves to be shot. A local hunter, the spokesman for a small group of wolf haters, has been stirring up public opinion for some time with his scaremongering tactics, saying things like: "Only when we find the first child's school backpack at a bus stop, without the child, will people finally wake up."

"I'm tired of it," says Reinhardt. "Hey, I'm a biologist. I just want to do my job." She closes the barrier to the military training area behind her, marking the end of another workday. On this day, at least, she managed to find pup tracks in a pack's territory.

THE HUNTERS

Heinz Baacke characterizes the monitoring of Canis lupus as "balderdash." Why should it be left solely up to the wildlife biologists, asks Baacke, who represents the state hunters' association in Saxony. After all, he says, hunters have eyes, too. "When I'm sitting on a tree stand," he says, "I don't exactly shut my eyes when the wolf walks by!"

Baacke already suspects that Kluth, Reinhardt and their assistants are deliberately undercounting the wolf population. For him, it's obvious that they have an interest in keeping the official numbers low. "All I can say is this: The fewer wolves there are, the more they need protection," the bearded hunter says. He likes to wear the appropriate outfit, which includes a felt hat and a green loden coat, when he goes deerstalking with his wirehaired dachshund Belina.

Conservationists, on the other hand, worry that hunters would count each wolf they see several times. In the Lausitz region, a pack covers a territory of about 250 square kilometers (97 square miles), which is more than four times the size of Manhattan. Given their range, the animals are likely to run past several tree stands in a single night. Biologists claim, for example, that sloppy monitoring was to blame for no one noticing that the Iberian lynx was becoming a critically endangered species in Spain and Portugal.

Baacke admits that hunters haven't exactly been eager to report sightings or kills. He is quick to attribute this to "psychological reasons," saying that hunters have felt sidelined. "Of course, they felt terribly offended."

This will change as soon as the wolf is placed under the protection of game laws, says Baacke, because then hunters will feel obligated to report kills and collect feces. "After all, they're the group that's most affected by the wolves," he says, because hunters must share their prey with the animals.

Then Baacke ventures into the world of metaphors. Hunters, he says, are like bulls. And conservationists are like oxen -- namely impotent.

THE SHEEP FARMERS

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