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



Blood does not buy goodwill

In the paper published Guillaume Chapron and Adrian treves in Proceedings B of the Royal Society (Blood does not buy goodwill: allowing culling increases poaching of a large carnivore), the authors looked at whether removing protection for large carnivores would decrease illegal hunting. This idea is supported by many governments. Does it work as expected? Find out by watching this video and by reading the paper available at

Abstract of the paper:

Quantifying environmental crime and the effectiveness of policy interventions is difficult because perpetrators typically conceal evidence. To prevent illegal uses of natural resources, such as poaching endangered species, governments have advocated granting policy flexibility to local authorities by liberalizing culling or hunting of large carnivores. We present the first quantitative evaluation of the hypothesis that liberalizing culling will reduce poaching and improve population status of an endangered carnivore. We show that allowing wolf (Canis lupus) culling was substantially more likely to increase poaching than reduce it. Replicated, quasi-experimental changes in wolf policies in Wisconsin and Michigan, USA, revealed that a repeated policy signal to allow state culling triggered repeated slowdowns in wolf population growth, irrespective of the policy implementation measured as the number of wolves killed. The most likely explanation for these slowdowns was poaching and alternative explanations found no support. When the government kills a protected species, the perceived value of each individual of that species may decline; so liberalizing wolf culling may have sent a negative message about the value of wolves or acceptability of poaching. Our results suggest that granting management flexibility for endangered species to address illegal behaviour may instead promote such behaviour.

Does hunting impact carnivore recruitment?

Recruitment in a social carnivore before and after harvest” is the title of a recent paper published on the Journal Animal Conservation of the Zoological Society of London that shows collateral impacts of harvesting wolves:

We attributed just 18–38% of pup mortality directly to harvest and suggest that there are indirect effects of harvest on recruitment that may be associated with changes in group size and structure. Models that do not include both direct and indirect effects of harvest on recruitment may underestimate the potential impact of harvest on population growth in social species.”

The article does not have open access and it is available HERE but you can read it in this LINK.

Other recommended reads:


It is a rule in ecology that big animals outcompete little animals. Sometimes the big animals kill the little animals, sometimes the big animals eat the little animals, and sometimes the big animals drive the little animals out of one territory and into another, safer one. That basic pattern – “interspecific competitive killing” – has pushed scientists to try to understand how large carnivores shape entire ecosystems. Continue reading

Judge rules to keep gray wolves on endangered species list

Great news from USA! Great job done by the Scientists. You can download the letter sent to the judge HERE.

As scientists with expertise in carnivore taxonomy and conservation biology, we are writing to express serious concerns with a recent draft rule leaked to the press that proposes to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves across the Lower 48 States, excluding the range of the Mexican gray wolf. Collectively, we represent many of the scientists responsible for the research referenced in the draft rule. Based on a careful review of the rule, we do not believe that the rule reflects the conclusions of our work or the best available science concerning the recovery of wolves, or is in accordance with the fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act to conserve endangered species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. Continue reading

Why Is Canada’s Wolf Population Splitting Into Two Groups?

Why Is Canada's Wolf Population Splitting Into Two Groups?

Chester Starr of the Heiltsuk First Nation knows that the wolves of British Columbia come in two varieties: timber wolves on the mainland and coastal wolves on the islands. Genetic research has finally confirmed what Starr’s tribe has always known.

It was Starr’s “traditional ecological knowledge” that initially inspired Polish Academy of Sciences researcher Astrid V. Stronen and University of Calgary scientist Erin Navid to take a closer look at British Columbia’s wolves. They wanted to see whether the Heiltsuk Nation’s folk knowledge was reflected in the wolves’ genes. Continue reading

Researchers Kill 890 Wolves to Learn About Them: There’s Something Very Wrong

By Marc Bekoff

I’ve written a number of essays that have centered on the question, “Should animals be killed in the name of, or under the guise of, conservation?” The basic foundation of the rapidly growing field of compassionate conservation, “First do no harm,” maintains that the lives of individual animals matter and that killing in the name of conservation should not be done (see here). Continue reading

Wolves are not the Cause of Elk Population Decline in Wyoming

Any hunter who’s spent time in wolf country can attest to the predators’ influence. We see wolf tracks, find old kills, and often times we spot fewer game animals. But exactly how wolves affect big-game populations is still greatly unknown. Yeah, wolves eat elk. But, do they kill mostly adults or calves? Do they eat enough elk to wipe out a whole herd? Do they pressure elk into hiding in the timber or force them off their feeding patterns? Are wolves even one of the main factors in elk population dynamics?

New research from the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Wyoming is starting to shed light on some of these questions. After three years of studying the Clark’s Fork elk herd (about 5,000 animals) in northwest Wyoming, lead researcher Arthur Middleton found that wolves might not be as detrimental to elk populations as many outdoorsmen think.

His research shows that the Clark’s Fork herd’s fate is based on a complex set of variables including habitat, weather, hunting, bears, and wolves.

“There’s a pretty popular notion that elk are always responding to wolves. And that’s a fairly logical perception because wolves are always hunting elk … But wolves hunt an elk population. That [hunting pressure] doesn’t always affect individual animals.”

Photo: Elk traveling across their winter range in Yellowstone National Park, USGS.

The Study
Middleton and a coalition of biologists GPS collared wolves and elk west of Cody, Wyoming in and around Yellowstone National park. In a study area of about 1 million acres, they monitored interactions between predator and prey. Over three years they observed the animals in January, February, and March – when wolves typically put the most stress on elk. The study was funded by a variety of organizations and agencies including Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boone & Crockett Club, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Safari Club International.

The researchers set out to test the theory that wolves were responsible for decreasing elk populations in ways besides direct predation. In other words, they wanted to find out if pressure from wolves was running elk out of their regular feeding patterns and keeping cows from putting on enough body fat to rear calves in the spring.

The research started at a critical time for the Clark’s Fork herd. Calf-to-cow ratios in the migratory herd started dropping in the mid-90s, about the same time wolves were introduced. Those ratios have remained low since 2002 and overall elk numbers decreased. Middleton found about 15 calves to 100 elk in the migratory Clark’s Fork herd. In the resident herd, the ratio was about 35 calves per 100 elk.

Hunters and wildlife managers were alarmed by the drop in elk numbers. Doug McWhiter, a Wyoming Fish and Game biologist who manages the area, said elk numbers are stable now, but hunting opportunities had to be cut. Cow tags were reduced and hunting units in the area were switched from general over-the-counter licenses to limited quota in 2010. Hunter opportunity was reduced by 50 to 75 percent, says McWhiter who helped with Middleton’s research.

“We can maintain these elk numbers but we had to severely limit hunting opportunity to do that,” he says. “That in itself is difficult for people to understand.”

Photo: The Agate wolf pack in a stand-off with a bull in Yellowstone, NPS.

The Findings
Middleton and his crew found that a new wolf pack does not mean certain doom for an elk herd. In fact, elk have adapted to living with wolves.

“From my time in the field, I can say that most days in the life of a cow elk are pretty boring,” Middleton says. On average, elk encountered wolves once every 9 days. The highest wolf-encounter rate for any individual elk was once every four days. And, even though elk were encountering wolves, they weren’t overly stressed or run to starvation.

“We didn’t see any reduction in rate of feeding and we didn’t see them shift into timber. Those two behaviors were said to be [metabolically] costly, but we just didn’t see [the elk reacting that way,]” Middleton says.

Elk did move slightly more when wolves were within 1 kilometer, but not by much – they only traveled an extra 30 meters per hour when wolves were in the area.

The researchers also found that the number of wolf encounters had no impact on the amount of elk body fat. Body fat is a critical measurement for cows’ ability to rear calves.

So if the wolf-hunting-pressure theory was busted, what was happening to the Clark Fork’s herd?

Middleton says it comes down to habitat. The area has suffered a 20-year decline in habitat across the herd’s summer range. If an elk can’t put on enough body fat in the summer and fall, then it will struggle through the winter, regardless of predators, Middleton says.

“We looked at a suite of factors that could explain late-winter body fat and the only thing that did explain it was autumn body fat. In other words, whatever they get over the summer determines where they end up in winter,” he says.

Of course, wolf predation does affect overall elk numbers, but in a separate study Middleton found that wolves weren’t even the top calf predators. He found that bears typically take out more elk calves than wolves do. During a June monitoring period grizzlies killed an elk calf every two to four days and black bears killed a calf every four to eight days.

Photo: Wolf on an elk kill in Yellowstone, PLOS Biology.

Backcountry Observations
Collecting data that shows an elk herd can thrive in wolf country and then getting people to actually believe that data are two different challenges. Hunters and outfitters who have spent their lives in the backcountry – before and after the wolf reintroduction – have already made plenty of their own observations.

Tim Doud, owner of Bliss Creek Outfitters out of Cody, says the elk decline goes hand-in-hand with the wolf reintroduction. Clear and simple.

“The elk population numbers have certainty decreased and it is because of the wolves. That’s the only reason in my eyes,” he says. “Now I’m not anti-wolf. I don’t think they should be wiped out or anything like that. But we do need to hunt more of them. Most people don’t see what I see. They don’t see the horrific, suffering death of an elk whose hindquarters have been chewed away and can only lay there and die slowly. That’s a real shame. Most people … go to Yellowstone to see the pretty dogs.”

Ron Lineberger owns Butte Creek Outfitters with his wife Theresa and guides elk hunters in the Wyoming backcountry. Over the years he’s seen elk behavior change, and in many ways his observations match Middleton’s research.

“Elk behavior has totally changed, but the elk are not gone. Everyone loves to blame the wolf because it’s easy … [Wolves] did change the dynamic for the environment and they’ve changed the way a lot of animals have evolved. It has led to a bit of catastrophic natural adaptation…

“There has been a succession of fires, which destroyed natural elk habitat. Grizzly bear numbers have gone up and the elk have moved to survive. They have moved to more agricultural and human habitat areas. It’s not just the wolf that’s caused the change. People just look to put the blame on one thing. Yes, elk have moved to areas that haven’t seen elk for 200 years. But there are large portions of healthy elk populations that have moved to private land, which makes them unhuntable … Think of it this way: the elk are picking their poison. Either deal with hunters in the low country for 6 weeks, or stay in the high country and deal with wolves and bears year round.”

The takeaway? Adapting to environmental changes is key to the success of a species, and an elk hunter.

“The hunter has to adapt as well,” Lineberger says. “Hunting elk also relies on a lot of factors that we have no control over. The fact that they have become more alert thanks to the wolves, certainly makes it tougher, but hunters must adapt to that. We are no different than any other animal. We must adapt to survive.”


Wolves in a Tangled Bank

by Cristina Eisenberg

The wolves’ return to Yellowstone and the subsequent recovery of plants that elk had been eating to death in their absence has become one the most popularized and beloved ecological tales. By the 1920s humans had misguidedly wiped out most of the wolves in North America, thinking that the only good wolf was a dead one. Without wolves preying on them, elk and deer (also calledungulates) exploded in number. Burgeoning ungulate populations ravaged plant communities, including aspen forests. Decades later, the wolves we reintroduced in Yellowstone hit the ground running, rapidly sending their ecological effects rippling throughout the region, restoring this ecosystem from top to bottom. Yet today some scientists caution that this story is more myth than fact because nature isn’t so simple.

For decades scientists have been investigating the ecological role of wolves. In his 1940s game surveys, Aldo Leopold found ungulates wiping out vegetation wherever wolves had been removed. He concluded that by controlling ungulates, wolves could restore plant communities and create healthier habitat for other species, such as birds.

Since Leopold’s time, many scientists have studied food web relationships between top predators and their prey—called trophic cascades. In the 1960s and 1970s Robert Paine, working with sea stars, and James Estes, working with sea otters, showed that ecosystems without top predators begin to unravel. John Terborgh called the ensuing rampant species extinctions an “ecological meltdown.” Paine created the metaphorical termkeystone species to refer to top predators and noted that when you remove the keystone, arches and ecosystems collapse. Over the years ecologists found trophic cascades—also called top-down effects—ubiquitous from coral reefs to prairies to polar regions. However, William Murdoch and others have maintained that sunlight and moisture, which make plants grow, drive ecosystem processes from the bottom-up, making predators relatively unimportant. The Yellowstone wolf reintroduction provided the perfect setting to test these contrasting perspectives.

In the mid-1800s in his book The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin presciently described nature as a “tangled bank.” Nature’s complexity results from myriad species and their relationships with other species and all the things that can possibly affect them individually and collectively, such as disease, disturbance, and competition for food. Science works incrementally, taking us ever deeper into nature’s tangled bank as we investigate ecological questions. Each study answers some questions and begets new ones. Sometimes we find contradictory results. Learning how nature works requires what Leopold called “deep-digging research” in which we keep searching for answers amid the clues nature gives us, such as the bitten-off stem of an aspen next to a stream where there are no wolves.

waterton lakes

Trophic cascades science that focuses on wolf effects is still in its infancy, with huge knowledge gaps. For example, we’ve linked wolves to strong effects that cascade down through multiple food web levels. However, we’re just starting to parse how context can influence these effects. Some Yellowstone studies have found that wolves have powerful indirect effects on the plants that elk eat, such as aspens, due to fear of predation. With wolves around, elk have to keep moving to stay alive, which reduces browsing pressure. Conversely, a growing body of studies are finding no wolf effect—that aspens in places with wolves aren’t growing differently than those where predation risk is low. Other studies have found that wolf predation risk doesn’t affect elk feeding behavior. In my own research I’ve found that wolves need another keystone force—fire—to most effectively drive trophic cascades. With wolves and fire present, elk herbivory drops, aspens thrive, and biodiversity soars due to the healthy habitat created by young, vigorously growing aspen.

aspen, Glacier National Park

It’s human nature to try to find simple solutions. Today we are grappling with monumental environmental problems such as climate change and habitat fragmentation. Due to the wolf’s iconic status and our need to fix broken ecosystems, the environmental community and the media have run with the science that shows a strong wolf effect. This has inspired other scientists to prove that ecosystems are more complex than that. These dissenting studies demonstrate that the wolf dwells in a tangled bank, working alongside many other ecological forces.

Tangled banks seldom yield simple answers. However, arguing about what exactly carnivores do ecologically and why we need them is fiddling while Rome burns. Large, meat-eating animals improve the health of plant communities and provide food subsidies for the many species that scavenge on their kills. A system with wolves in it is far richer than one without and can support many more grizzly bears, coyotes, wolverines, and eagles. There are things we don’t know and disagreements about what we do know. But given the accelerated human-caused extinctions we are experiencing today, a precautionary approach to creating healthier ecosystems means conserving large carnivores.

Beyond empiricism, scientists often operate based on instinct. Instinct led Darwin to dig more deeply into species adaptation and Leopold to doggedly delve into the effects of predator removal. For many of us who conduct trophic cascades science, our instincts are telling us that wolves should be conserved in as high a number in as many places as possible, due to the invaluable benefits they can bring to ecosystems. To do anything other than conserve wolves would be foolish, given all we’ve learned thus far.