The mystery of the disappearance of the wolf pack in Denmark – are the hunters to blame? | Wildlife
Wolves could become extinct again in Denmark and other lowland European countries unless the population is supplemented by migrating animals, according to a new study.
A pack of wolves crossed the border between Germany and Denmark in 2017, ending a 200-year absence of wolves in the country. But 48% of Denmark’s wolf population was subsequently killed illegally or went missing, with the shooting being the only plausible explanation.
Wolves have thrived in the lowlands of Europe in recent years, with populations increasing by more than a third per year in Germany between 2000 and 2015. Protected by EU law, wolves born in Germany have recolonized Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and parts of France.
But a study of the 35 wolves, whose DNA shows they had moved north to Denmark, published in Letters of conservation, found that death rates are 10 times higher than normal in the country. In Schleswig-Holstein – the northernmost state in Germany, which borders Denmark – the main cause of death is traffic, especially on the fast highways around Hamburg.
In Denmark, less populated, there were no deaths on the roads, but only nine of the 27 wolves recorded in the country were still alive at the beginning of 2020. Four had crossed the south of Germany, one died of causes. natural, one was a confirmed illegal. killing and 12 disappeared. The life expectancy of a Danish wolf is only two years.
“Unfortunately, this is not surprising. This is part of a pattern that we have seen in many countries. Usually they go missing and are never found, ”said lead author Professor Peter Sunde of Aarhus University.
Research has shown that the key to the resurgence of the wolf in the lowlands of Europe has been the sanctuary of finding animals in large military training areas, especially in Germany, where they can breed without being disturbed. through persecution. When wolves leave the safety of these restricted areas, they can find a lot of food even in suburban areas, but are much more prone to persecution.
According to Sunde, wolves are particularly vulnerable in countries like Denmark, which has many private owners, rather than large state forests like Finland and Sweden. “A wolf for a year will probably meet people hundreds of times, and they only need to meet one hostile person with a weapon to die,” he said. Environmentalists calculate that the Danish part of the Jutland Peninsula – an agricultural landscape similar to the lowlands of Scotland with only 13% forest cover – has room for 10 packs of wolves.
Animals crossing Germany would not be targeted by sheep herders, who are only a small number in Denmark, but by hunters who dislike the predator to take the deer they want to slaughter.
Sunde pointed out that their study did not provide any evidence as to who was behind the Danish wolf killings, but added: “It’s usually the hunters who lead this because they see the wolf as a competitor for resources. Red deer hunters have weapons and they can shoot wolves. This is where you have the big interest, the big money and also the big feelings.
“We have anarchy in a nutshell – a powerful group that can enforce their will through illegal actions.”
Some argue that allowing authorized “slaughter” of wolves can reduce rates of illegal persecution by reassuring groups such as hunters or ranchers that populations will not be allowed to increase indefinitely. But a study in Finland suggested that a legal “harvest” of wolves actually increased the likelihood of illegal killing.
“Right now we have legislation that protects wolves, and it doesn’t work because a minority doesn’t play by the rules,” Sunde said.
“The solution must be to change mentalities. As long as you have people who are willing to break the law, it is almost impossible to control this or monitor this because it is a crime that occurs on people’s own property.