Wolves move in when ag moves out

A wolf called Naya was fitted with a tracking collar as a cub, which has allowed researchers to monitor its progress across Europe

A lone wolf being monitored by European researchers is revealing how far the animals sometimes travel and their rising population in areas where agriculture once dominated.

Naya the wolf was fitted with a collar incorporating a tracking device as a six-month-old cub by researchers at the Technical University of Dresden in Germany.

In October last year, the young female left its parents and wolf pack in rural Lubtheener Heide, an area between Hamburg and Berlin in Germany.

Since then, it has roamed across Germany, crossed into The Netherlands and made it into Belgium on Jan. 3. It has already killed two sheep and injured another in Belgium.

It marks the first sighting of a wolf in Belgium for more than 100 years and has put farmers in the northeastern Flanders area on alert.

Naya has killed two sheep and injured a third near the Belgian town of Meerhout.

“Any sheep farmers should know they are in range of this wolf,” said Hugh Jansman, a researcher from the Dutch Wageningen University and research centre who has been following Naya’s journey.

Currently, the young wolf has set up its den at a large military area near the town of Leopoldsburg, about 25 kilometres from the Dutch border in Belgium.

The recent sightings of Naya follow other sightings last year of a wolf pack in Denmark.

“We are at the front of the migratory wave of wolves,” said Jansman. “In 2000, the first wolf pack with cubs was in eastern Germany. Currently, there are 74 cub packs with cubs in eastern Germany.

“And in Lower Saxony, closest to the Dutch border, in 2012 there was only one settled female but currently there are 14 packs of cubs.

“Agricultural areas are being abandoned by people so they are re-wilding again, leaving lots of space for carnivores. The countryside is being abandoned by young people who are moving to the cities.

He said the increase in Europe’s wolf population and distribution means more are going to find their way into Belgium and the Netherlands ­­— it is only a matter of time.

Naya’s transmitter reports the animal travels between 30 and 70 km a night looking for a new home.

“Some wolves just stay in their area, some others, about 20 percent, go on a trek and walk hundreds of kilometres and settle down,” said Jansman.

He said Naya passed through several natural parks in the Netherlands but left them all. Ultimately, Naya’s decision to settle down in a military area could be because the area smells less of humans.

Did you know?

  • There are about 12,000 wolves in 28 European countries, excluding Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
  • Wolves were first spotted in Germany in 1998. Under German law, wolves are a protected species.
  • In 2011, wolves were spotted in Belgium and the Netherlands, with one sighting in Flanders, Belgium, for the first time in more than a century.
  • Data from the wolf’s radio collar showed that this wolf had travelled 500 km in just 10 days.

Source: Staff research

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