Revival of wolf population stirs old German fears

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 8:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 8:14pm


German police reached the accident to find what news stories would describe as a scene from a horror show: Seven horses, huddled on a small, dark highway, had been ripped to pieces by two speeding cars. The drivers had been badly injured. Investigators found pieces of car wreckage and horseflesh scattered around the site.

But the reason the December car wreck remained national news for weeks had only a little bit to do with the carnage. Instead, what has made the accident the talk of Germany is its suspected cause: wolves, who reportedly spooked the horses into the paths of the oncoming cars.

There is no human in the diet. None
Professor Hermann Ansorge

It is difficult to capture the fear and excitement that wolves generate in Germany. The predator has played a role in many a German fairy tale, and for about 150 years it was considered extinct in Germany, hunted down and disposed of.

Now, however, wolves have made a comeback, growing over the last 20 years to a stable population of 35 packs, about 150 wolves in all. That has set off a furore over whether Germany is big enough for both people and wolves. They have made regular headlines, and been the subject of numerous news programmes.

Critics maintain that Germany is too densely populated for a large, wild carnivore to be allowed to roam freely. Fans and scientists maintain they are signs of an ecosystem in need of a predator.

The December accident shows how far apart the two camps are. The Hunters Association of Saxony says wolves caused the horses to flee their pen and head onto the road. "With great concern we are following the uncontrolled spread of the wolf," the organisation wrote.

Others have strong doubts that wolves were in any way involved. They note that no evidence of a wolf presence was found at the scene.

It is hardly the first time Germans have voiced such fears. One need look no further than Grimm Brothers tales such as Little Red Cap - the Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood - and The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids, which depict the wolf as voracious and dangerous.

How seriously the Germans took the wolf threat was evident about the time those stories were published. In the early 19th century, a wolf hunt was organised on the Rhine River: 69 riders on horseback and 385 hunters on foot, aided by 3,250 "drivers", who crashed through the wilderness pushing the wolves before them to the hunters.

Each time a region cleansed itself of the lupine threat, hunters erected a wolfstein - a tombstone - where the last one was killed, and wrote on it who killed the animal and when.

Officially, the "Tiger of Sabrodt" was the last wolf killed in Germany, in 1904, but they had been considered extinct in the country since before the original unification in 1871.

Professor Hermann Ansorge studies wolves as the head zoologist at the Goerlitz Senckenberg Natural History Museum.

The results of his analysis of wolf poop: 52 per cent of the diet is tiny roe deer, 25 per cent the larger red deer, 16 per cent is wild pig. Sheep, cattle, goats and house pets combined make up less than 1 per cent of the diet.

"There is no human in the diet," he said, smiling, then adding, seriously: "None."