Denmark has its first wild wolf pack in 200 years. After centuries of persecution throughout the well-peopled landscapes of northern and central Europe, the persecutors — some of them, anyway — have become protectors.
Why care? For one, Denmark’s last wolf is believed to have been killed in 1813.
For another, those who work both inside conservation and on the periphery, are hailing the sighting as a welcome bit of good news on the heels of a recent run of bad news.
Controversy has flared once again on the ranch-lands bordering Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have never been popular and ranchers fought a decision to reintroduce wolves into the park tooth-and-nail n the mid 1990s.
Wyoming is staging its first legal wolf hunt in two-and-a-half years. And although the Wyoming Game and Fish Department told the local newspaper in Jackson Hole that the hunt has started slowly, with not a single report of a wolf killed by a hunter in the hunt’s first few days — owing to “crummy weather,” according to one local outfitter — the future suddenly looks bleak for one of nature’s most maligned, least understood predators.
The new U.S. administration is turning back the clock on decades of wildlife research and legislation, much of it enacted under former U.S. President Barack Obama. The current presidential administration seems determined to lift protections on wilderness areas that have been in effect since Theodore Roosevelt established the national park system in 1905. “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune,” Roosevelt said at the time.
The Wyoming hunt has the potential to undo recent gains — modest gains, at that — in the state’s wild wolf population. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t released its annual estimate of wolf populations yet, but according to figures published late last month in the Jackson Hole Daily, the previous year’s tally — 382 wolves statewide — was the highest since wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone little more than 10 years ago.
That’s telling because other research figures, printed in the Billings Gazette out of Billings, Montana, show that Yellowstone’s elk population is up, not down. The argument that reintroducing wolves would wipe out Yellowstone’s prey animals has been refuted, in other words. Advocates for wolf conservation have long argued that wolves help curb disease in elk, making the resultant population stronger — inasmuch facts matter in our present post-truth political climate.
Denmark is different, though.
Europe is an older, more mature society. Wolves have been an indelible part of folklore since the earliest children’s tales, and the persecution of wolves dates back centuries, not just years.
Word that a female wolf had trekked some 200 kms — 125 miles — into Denmark from Germany, to presumably link up with the male wolves already known to be there, means Denmark has its first viable wolf pack since George III sat on the throne of England and Mary Shelley penned her literary classic Frankenstein.
The wolf sightings aren’t idle conjecture, either. The wolf pack was filmed together as recently as January.
“We expect that they will have cubs this year or next,” Peter Sunde, a researcher at Denmark’s Aarhus University, told the UK Guardian earlier this month. “People were surprised when wolves (reappeared) in Denmark, but they are highly mobile and are just as adaptable to cultural landscapes as foxes are. The only problem is that historically we killed them.”
The Denmark wolves have settled in a patch of heathland and small pine forests surrounded by actively cultivated farmland. The pine groves are home to a growing population of red deer and roe deer, which the wolves have taken to for prey. The Danish government has established a compensation plan for area farmers who lose the occasional sheep or calf. The government is also backing a fund designed to help farmers erect wolf-proof fencing around their properties.
This shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise, Sunde insisted.
“There is a tradition in Denmark of reaching compromises and solutions,” Sunde told the Guardian. “We can relatively easily manage the wolf population, but the challenge is the psychology of humans. There are so many feelings and opinions about wolves in Denmark, as everywhere.”
Interestingly enough, southern European countries have been more receptive to accepting new wolf populations than many of their northern neighbours. Finland and Norway, both with relatively small wolf populations, still stage annual wolf culls, although the practice has become increasingly controversial in recent years.
The recent reintroduction of wolves in Denmark is no children’s fairy tale. It’s real. It isn’t the stuff of made-up stories. As a scientist from Sweden told the Guardian: “It is not a myth that it is back. It’s just a natural part of European fauna.”