Wolves have historically received a pretty bad press because of their need to kill animals like deer to feed themselves and their offspring. However some people may be surprised to learn that wolves can actually help many species of animals and plants to thrive – particularly in places where the wolves’ normal prey have increased out of control due to the absence of their natural predators.
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In small numbers deer and elk can play an important role in the ecosystem but when their numbers explode due to the absence of a natural predator this can have a devastating impact on certain kinds of local vegetation. This vegetation provides a source of nutrition and a habitat to many species of animal which themselves become threatened as the plants disappear. This has been illustrated over the last 20 years since wolves were first reintroduced back into Yellowstone Park in the USA. By re-establishing a natural control over the numbers and grazing habits of deer and elk the wolves have played a key role in increasing the numbers of other species like rabbits, beavers, weasels and otters. To understand how this happened take a look at the following video:
This development bodes well for the Bavarian forests in the South of Germany where recently DNA analysis of droppings found near the carcasses of sheep confirmed that the animals had been eaten by a wolf. Although there had been some potential sightings this was the first unequivocal confirmation that wolves had returned to this region, probably from eastern Europe. Wolves are protected under German law and may not be hunted so it is hoped that with time their numbers will increase.
The authorities in Bavaria have made it clear that the wolves should not pose a threat to people in these areas. First of all, unlike city dwelling foxes, wolves are shy creatures when it comes to humans. They will avoid heavily populated regions preferring the forests where they can live off the local wildlife – and there is certainly no shortage of deer in this region. Here is a picture of one I spotted near to where I stay in the Bavarian Alps:
We will await the development of the wolf population in Bavaria with interest. If the experience of Yellowstone Park is anything to go by this should be very positive for the local ecosystem.
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