International Wolf Day
On International Wolf Day, we want to highlight the role wolves play in the ecosystem and how we can work towards a sustainable future coexistence with this species.
There are two main species of wolves on the northern hemisphere: the Ethiopian wolf with 500 individuals and the gray wolf with 250,000 individuals. They live and hunt together in packs, led by an alpha male and an alpha female. Each wolf's howl is unique, like fingerprints in humans.
One of the most successful conservation stories in Europe is the natural return of wolves to many countries. While some areas always had stable populations, wolves disappeared in most countries due to human persecution. However, with the increase in their prey and forest cover, as well as favorable legislation, wolf populations have rapidly recovered. This has positive effects on nature but also raises concerns among people, as wolves sometimes prey on livestock, leading to conflicts.
Many scientists have studied the impact of wolves on ecosystems. The famous example from Yellowstone shows how the behavior of herbivores changed due to the presence of wolves, leading to landscape transformation. Another example is the relationship between wolves and bovine tuberculosis, best studied in Slovakia. Wolves remove sick individuals, thus preventing the spread of the disease. Some call them "wilderness doctors." Wolves also control the fox population, allowing bird and rodent prey to thrive. Additionally, wolf kills provide food for scavengers, and the increased number of wild boars damaging agricultural fields can be reduced, as wolves are their only natural predator.
The European Union has declared wolves as strictly protected, but member states have different interpretations of what this means in practice. Some countries, like Slovakia and certain regions of Spain, can legally cull wolves to some extent. However, even Spain halted wolf culling activities last season, while illegal killing of wolves continues in many other countries.
What happens when wolves leave protected areas and venture near human settlements is a question that has been concerning many people lately. Humans constantly degrade natural habitats for wolves and other species through deforestation, expanding agricultural land, and urbanization, leading to rapid loss of natural areas. Therefore, it is inevitable that wolves move out of their natural environment and seek new territories. However, animals often end up in human settlements, causing conflicts between people and wildlife.
The key question is how humans can mitigate conflicts and achieve coexistence with wolves and other wild animals. For example, in 2018, the European Wilderness Society participated in an EU Platform workshop on human-wildlife coexistence. The workshop focused on the current use of EU funds to support coexistence and prevent livestock depredation. The outcome of the workshop was a set of recommendations on how organizations can use EU funds to support local communities and prevent livestock depredation. To minimize conflicts between humans and wolves, people should implement the following recommendations:
- Simplify the application process to make it easier for individual farmers to fill out forms.
- Increase support to cover maintenance and additional work costs, as well as equipment expenses.
- Reduce the number of tools used to support coexistence.
- Communicate requirements for financial support more effectively.
- Clearly communicate to political parties the presence of large predators and the need for preventive measures.