Nature Number of wolves and attacks on livestock increasing

Bonn · The number of wolves in Germany is growing steadily - and so are the number of attacks on farm animals. This is causing heated debates and demands for the shooting of wolves, especially in the "wolf states".

Two wolves in the enclosure at Schorfheide Wildlife Park. The wolf has been slowly spreading since its return to Germany in 1998.

Two wolves in the enclosure at Schorfheide Wildlife Park. The wolf has been slowly spreading since its return to Germany in 1998.

Foto: dpa/Patrick Pleul

The wolf has been slowly spreading since its return to Germany in 1998. In the wolf year 2021/2022 (1 May to 30 April), the number of officially confirmed wolf packs nationwide rose to 161 (previous year 158). The number of wolf pairs increased to 43 (previous year 35), the number of lone wolves remained almost constant at 21 (previous year 22), the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the Federal Documentation and Advisory Centre on Wolves (DBBW) announced in Bonn on Monday.

"This is a natural growth and a slightly smaller increase than in previous years," said Sandra Balzer, head of the zoological species protection department at BfN. The figures are based on surveys by the Länder with scientifically verified evidence, such as gene traces and camera trap images, as BfN President Sabine Riewenherm emphasised.

Shooting wolves is strictly prohibited, and public discussions are repeatedly triggered by attacks on farm animals, especially sheep and goats. In 2021, a total of 975 attacks by wolves with 3374 injured, missing or killed farm animals were reported. In the previous year, there were 942 attacks.

Support from the federal government

In Germany there are state subsidies for herd protection available to livestock farmers in almost all federal states where there are established wolf populations. Protective measures include electric fences about 1.20 metres high and - depending on the individual case - herding dogs. Nationwide, a good 16.6 million euros were spent on these in 2021, the report says. In addition, authorities paid almost half a million euros in damages to owners of farm animals in 2021.

The Federal Office advises that nationwide protection of herds should be carried out as preventive measures as far as possible, before wolves get used to tearing sheep and goats or even smaller cattle and foals as supposedly "easy prey". But experts agree that a blanket hunting of wolves is not a suitable measure against damage to livestock.

According to the report, most wolf packs in 2021/2022 lived in Brandenburg (47), followed by Lower Saxony (34) and Saxony (31). In North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state, there were two packs. Nationwide, the verifiable number of wolves in the known wolf areas for the wolf year is estimated at 1,175, although the total population cannot be reliably calculated, among other things because of their long-distance migrations. There is also no comparative figure for the previous year.

Wolves are a strictly protected species in Germany. Shooting is prohibited unless the wolves, which are normally shy around humans, act aggressively in encounters with humans. In that case, the Federal Nature Conservation Act permits shooting - officially called "removal". According to the report, no such case of unprovoked aggressive wolf behaviour has occurred since 1998.

Also according to the report, 148 wolves were found dead in the recorded wolf year. Most of them (102) died in traffic accidents. However, as many as 13 were also killed illegally in violation of animal protection laws.

(Original text: dpa. Translation: Jean Lennox)

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