Human-Wolf conflict in Germany

I have found a very interesting article written in the website of the European Wilderness Society on the Wolf in Germany. Access to original source here.

The story is not new to those who work with large carnivores in human dominated environments. Some part of the society asks to protect this icon of the wilderness while others are lobbying for legal killing.

The previous research done on this topic shows that legal killing will not help to diminish ilegal killing of the species nor reduce the livestock losses. Where there are large carnivores and free-ranging unprotected livestock, there will be always a conflict. We must assume it. The goals (everybody´s goal) should be to diminish such losses while keeping viable populations of these carnivore that are healthy and populated enough to have their role in the ecosystem.

In the link provided at the beginning of this article, you can find valuable information on the insignificant economic losses that wolves produce. The wolf’s damage counts thus for 0,08% of the total wildlife-damage in Germany.



There are currently 70 confirmed wolf packs in Germany. Aproximately the same amount than Galicia, in the north west of Spain with a size of 2/3 of Switzerland.

Livestock protection is the long term solution

Killing of wolves has counterproductive effects as it breaks the pack structure. The flow of experience and  learning process from the elders to the younger animals is one of the most important factors in order that wolves learn how to hunt wild animals like wild boar, red deer or roe deer. If the elders are killed, the young ones will seek easier prey like livestock. Killing wolves does increase livestock damage and human wild life conflict.

The most effective solution is to protect the livestock using electric fences, guarding dogs and other methods to dissuade wolves approaching the livestock.

Have a look at the website of the European Wilderness Society to find out more on the Wolf in Germany.

Source article can be found here and here

Some essentials on coexisting with carnivores

Coexisting with carnivores can be a challenge, but their value makes it worthwhile, as Professor John Vucetich and Professor David Macdonald explain

The well-being of many human communities depends on healthy forests and grasslands. Those ecosystems can be degraded by over-browsing and over-grazing by large herbivores – moose, deer, elk, gazelles and so forth. That overconsumption is far less likely to occur when large herbivores are limited by healthy populations of large carnivore – wolves, lions, lynx, wolverine, bears, etc. Moreover, ecosystems with healthy populations of large carnivores tend to have greater levels of overall biodiversity. In a nutshell, and at risk of glossing over details, the conservation community has concluded that large carnivores have great ecological value.

Nevertheless, human communities often find it difficult to live near populations of large carnivores. Difficulties arise in three ways. First, carnivores kill domestic livestock, which provides for the well-being of some humans. Carnivores do not kill for malice; they do so because their well-being depends on it. Moreover, carnivores would naturally prey on wild animals. In many cases, however, the wild prey have been displaced by domestic livestock.

Second, carnivores kill wild prey that is also hunted by humans for subsistence or recreation. In this way, large carnivores are treated as competition to be eliminated.

Third, some species of large carnivores, on some occasions, threaten and take human lives. Important examples include human-eating lions in portions of Africa and human-eating tigers in portions of south Asia.

While these three elements of conflict are real, they are also frequently and grossly exaggerated. In the United States, for example, the impacts of wolves on livestock and hunting are very small and wolves do not pose a threat to human safety1. Yet, these concerns are an important fuel for wolf persecution.

Under threat

Genuine and perceived threats lead to humans killing carnivores at high rates through illegal poaching and legal culling and hunting. The result of all this killing is that two-thirds of the world’s carnivore species are threatened with extinction and most places do not have their native compliment of carnivores. The end point of treating this conflict – as humanity has thus far – is irreversible extinction and gross mistreatment of carnivores that manage to persist. An important element of this conflict concerns the received and oft-repeated motivation offered for why carnivores should be treated better: because they are ultimately of value to humans. The genuine wellbeing of humans is an important reason to conserve, but it is not the only one and alone it is inadequate.

European colonists and their descendants drove various large carnivores to extinction over a substantial portion of eastern North America. Britain drove its large carnivores – wolves, lynx and brown bears – to extinction centuries ago. It is difficult to mount a case that the wellbeing of those humans is worse as a result of those extinctions. When an object (think, carnivores) is valued only for its utility, its utility may go unrecognised, be outweighed by costs of maintaining it, or replaced by a substitute. This is not a denial of carnivores’ utility, but an acknowledgement of the risk in valuing something only for its utility. As such, nature’s utility is an (important, but) insufficient motivation for conservation.

Conserving carnivores

What if, carnivores are valuable, not only for advancing human wellbeing but also because they have a value in their own right? What if, we have an obligation to treat carnivores fairly and with at least some concern for their wellbeing? The response to those questions begins with the supposition that humans possess this kind of value and are entitled to this kind of treatment because we have interests (e.g., to avoid pain and to flourish). It follows that any entity with such interests would also possess this kind of value. Because all vertebrate organisms possess those interests, they also possess this kind of value and deserve this kind of treatment. The force and universality of this reasoning are indicated by the principle of ethical consistency, i.e., treat others as you would consent to be treated in the same position. Most human cultures are undergirded by some variant of this principle (e.g., golden rule). This intrinsic value of at least some non-human portions of nature is widely acknowledged – reflected by sociological evidence and many instances of laws and policies. Ethicists encapsulate these ideas by saying that carnivores (and many other forms of life) possess intrinsic value2.

Future success in carnivore conservation will depend, in part, on better understanding ideas that will foster effective and fair mitigation and adjudication of conflict, especially:

  • The extent to which conservation can be achieved through protected areas and land-sparing, opposed to land sharing3;
  • Mechanisms of socioeconomic behaviour that adversely impact carnivores. Some elements may be underappreciated (e.g., wealth inequality,4) and other elements may be favourable to conservation (e.g., tendency to increasingly embrace nature’s intrinsic value with increasing economic development,5);
  • How to subsidise coexistence by compensating those adversely affected by living with carnivores. The challenge is tailoring compensation in ways that are fair and effective, yet do not foster, e.g., perverse incentives, additionality, or leakage6;
  • How to best juxtapose the values of conservation and social justice in a manner that genuinely honours the intrinsic value of carnivores without being misanthropic7.

Conservation is no longer limited by ecological knowledge about carnivores’ ecological value or needs. Increasingly, the limiting factor is an effective application of knowledge arising from the synthesis of social sciences, social justice and conservation.

1 Vucetich (2016), Oversight Hearing, United States House Of Representatives.

2 Vucetich et al. (2015), Conserv Biol,

3 Fischer et al. (2014), Conserv Biol,

4 Holland et al. (2009), Conserv. Biol.,

5 Bruskotter, Vucetich, et al. (2017), BioScience,

6 Dickman, Macdonald, & Macdonald (2011), Proc Natl Acad Sci, USA.

7 Vucetich & Nelson (2010), BioScience,


Professor John A. Vucetich

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

Michigan Technological University


Professor David W. Macdonald

Wildlife Conservation Research Unit

The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Department of Zoology

University of Oxford



An elegant chaos

Universal theories are few and far between in ecology, but that is what makes it fascinating.

To some scientists in other fields, ecology must seem relatively straightforward. Many of the organisms live at a very human scale and are easy to access, especially in community ecology. Ecologists do not need special equipment to see and count elk. There are no electron microscopes, space telescopes or drilling rigs that can go wrong. Easy.

And yet, ecologists know that their subject can prove as troublesome as any other. Ecology would be easy, were it not for all the ecosystems — vastly complex and variable as they are. Even the most austere desert or apparently featureless moor is a dense, intricate network of thousands of species of photosynthesizers, predators, prey animals, parasites, detritovores and decomposers. As naturalist E. O. Wilson put it: “A lifetime can be spent in a Magellanic voyage around the trunk of a single tree.” And not all of what one might learn from such a voyage would be transferable to the next tree. History, chance, climate, geology and — increasingly — human fiddling mean that no two ecosystems work in the same way.

Scientists like to impose structure and order on chaos, and ecologists are no different. Ecology has its grand theories, but they are riddled with conditional clauses, caveats and exceptions. There are clear patterns at the global and single-species scales, but the middle ground is, as biologist John Lawton affectionately put it in 1999, “a mess”. It is doubtful that the generalities that underlie the complex patterns of nature will ever be phrased succinctly enough to fit on a T-shirt.

This complexity is demonstrated by work that questions a famous and elegant ‘trophic cascade’ in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, discussed on page 158. The theory goes that wolves, restored to the park in the 1990s after decades of absence, scare elk away from certain areas. That has a knock-on effect for the rest of the food chain, allowing aspen and willows to flourish after decades of being browsed nearly to death. But studies in recent years suggest that wolves alone do not control the ecosystem. Other factors — the presence of beaver dams and grizzly bears, weather, hunting by humans and even climate change — also affect the elk population and the growth of trees and shrubs.

It would be useful to have broad patterns and commonalities in ecology. To know how ecosystems will respond to climate change, or to be able to predict the consequences of introducing or re­introducing a species, would make conservation more effective and efficient. But a unified theory of everything is not the only way to gain insight.

More ecologists should embrace the non-predictive side of their science. Teasing out what is going on in complex systems by looking at how ecosystems evolved, and by manipulating the environment in experiments, is just as much a science as creating formulae for how ecosystems work.

“If ecosystems all worked in the same way, they would lose much of their mystery, their surprise and their beauty.”

Paradigm shifts, after all, are rare in ecology. Debates are often resolved when competing concepts combine, rather than when one pushes the other completely off the table. Take the contrasting ideas of top-down regulation of ecosystems by carnivores and bottom-up regulation effected by the nutrition available from plants. The field is slowly working towards an integrated theory to predict when the top will rule and when the bottom will be in charge — and that theory will take the time to consider the middle players, the herbivores.

Other ecological debates have followed a similar path. Disagreement over whether complex ecosystems are more or less stable than simpler ones, for example, is also settling to a consensus: it depends.

Useful practical predictions need not stem from universal laws. They may come instead from a deep knowledge of the unique workings of each eco­system — knowledge gained from observation and analysis. Proposing sweeping theories is exciting, but if ecologists want to produce work useful to conservation, they might do better to spend their days sitting quietly in eco­systems with waterproof notebooks and hand lenses, writing everything down.

Ecological complexity, which may seem like an impenetrable thicket of nuance, is also the source of much of our pleasure in nature. If ecosystems were simple puzzles that all worked in the same way, they would lose much of their mystery, their surprise and their beauty. A lot of conservation work aims to protect the complexity and variability that makes ecosystems so hard to understand, and indeed to conserve.

Ecological rules are not the only reasons to promote conservation and fight extinctions. Sometimes we can argue for the conservation of particular species because ecology provides a scientific basis for it. At other times, we make the argument because there is a good chance that ecology will soon catch up and explain why the species are important.

But even if some predators do little but sit at the top of their food pyramids, creaming off a few herbivores, would we really want to live in a world without them? Answering that question really is easy.

Nature 507, 139–140 (13 March 2014) doi:10.1038/507139b