Is Denmark Fit For Wolves’ Establishment?
The conflict rises, it has been smoldering since the first one in centuries was spotted the Western Jutland(4). The rage that splits the whatsoever peaceful country is growing bigger for every single snapshot of the animal that is being posted online. The wolf has crossed our boarders and is roaming in our forests. As long as I can remember, I have been very fascinated by wolves and I thought it was amazing when I started hearing news about wolves in Denmark.
However, Denmark might not be fit for the return of the wolf. Some people might not like the thought of having wolves in the forests. People even go as far as to shoot the animals illegally. With this report, I will research if there are natural habitats and food enough for them, and I will research if there is room for the wolf in the mind of the Danish people.
Wolves In Denmark
In 1813 the last wild wolf in Denmark was shot. First in 2012, nearly 200 years later, wolves were again spotted in the country. In 2017 the first pack was established as a female wolf trekked from Germany to the north-west Jutland. Wolves have been recorded making journeys of thousand kilometers across Europe and the wolf population in Germany is currently growing at 25-30% each year, so it is not unusual for the young to leave the pack and trek far on their own.
Now there are around 80 wolves roaming in Jutland and 10 on north-west Funen. A usual pack in Germany consist of around 8 members spread over three generations. In Denmark, it will most likely be the same since the Danish wolves come from Germany. A wolf pack usually has a primary area of around 11 to 23 square kilometers, while the rest of the territory consists of 100 to 300 square kilometers depending on the amount of prey in the area.
Wolves prefer to have their dens in areas like forests or moors where there are no humans, but they are able to live most places. In addition, their hunt area can be anywhere as long as there is food, this means wolves might go hunting near humans as well.
In Denmark, the wolves’ main food would be red and roe deer, since they prefer hoofed mammals. Wolves would also have positive effect on the Danish biodiversity, as they would prey on the young, sick and old animals, which keeps the population down and strong because only the strongest and healthiest survives. The biodiversity would also increase as the wolves cause the herbivores not to overgraze vegetation such as young trees and sprouts. This is just as it was seen when wolves were reintroduced to The Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The pressure from the wolves forced the elk to seek areas where they were safe from the predators, such as higher grounds or forests. The vegetation close to the rivers were now given time and peace to regenerate and the shade returned to the banks along with many species like beavers, frogs and insects living in the clear and cool water.
However, due to the amount of prey in Denmark, Jutland might be the only place for wolves to roam. Emil Bøgh Hansen from University of Southern Denmark made a research on the possibilities for wolves’ establishment on the Danish Island Funen, right next to Jutland. The research showed that it is possible for wolves to live on Funen, but only for barely two packs, since there is not enough deer to feed them. In addition, there will only be enough food for the wolves if hunting does not cause the amount of prey to decline.
Since wolves has returned to Denmark, the government has tried to accommodate foreseen conflicts, as wolves taking livestock, by giving subsidies for farmers to put up “wolf-proof fences”, and by compensating for damage caused by wolves.
Fear Of The Wolves
The wolf is protected by EU which makes it illegal to capture, kill or trade them in Denmark as well. Breaking the rules can give up to 2 years in jail. It is only legal to shoot a wolf in self-defense or if the wolf is a thread to humans or livestock. In addition, the rules say that every other possibility has to be given a try, a wolf may only be shot as the very last solution.
However, the shooting of a wolf through an open car window in May 2018 proves that there are still people ignoring these regulations. The shooting was caught on camera, and the owner of the car who fired the shot was charged of “violating the hunting legislation”(3). It is only legal to shoot a wolf when in self-defense, but it doesn’t really seem like defense to me, when the shooter is a half hundred meters away in a car.
Morten Lindhard, nature guide in the north-west Zealand told me this: “Whether there is space enough for the wolf also depends on people’s mentality. It is about wanting it here.”
It is clear the hunter who fired the shot did not want the wolf here. I asked Morten Lindhard why he thought some people have so much against the wolves, to which he answered: “Some people fear them (the wolves), and that fear is difficult to remove.”
A report made by a team from “Syddansk Universitet” (University of Southern Denmark) working together with the Danish Hunting Federation shows the hunters generally have a negative attitude towards wolves. 68% of the question pool don’t believe there is enough space for the wolf in the Danish nature. 60% do not want the wolf in the Danish nature at all, and 25% is afraid of the wolves’ comeback. Many hunters fear the wolf because they hunt with loose dogs or because they fear that the wolves will become a competitor to their hunt.
The hunter Bob Robb who has lived in Alaska for 15 years made an article on the website “Pertersen’s hunting” where he gives six reasons to kill wolves. One of the reasons where that a wolf population left unchecked can easily become a problem. “All those folks who say they only kill the sick and weak have never watched a pack of wolves eat a healthy, mature bull caribou alive as I have. They have never seen the trail of death a pack of wolves leaves behind as it kills to teach its pups how to hunt, or just for fun.” He says in his article.
Also landowners in Jutland seem to have a negative attitude towards wolves, that is the result from a report from the University of Copenhagen in 2016. The report is based on a choice experiment among 1500 landowners in Jutland. The respondents were asked to choose between hypothetical scenarios designed to reveal whether landowners would respond by illegal actions. It turns out that things like the wolves affecting the economic impact, and worry for safety of humans and domestic animals makes 60% of the respondents prefer illegal actions, and the majority in general shows a negative attitude towards wolves.
A report from University of Southern Denmark shows that farmers fear the wolf with no difference in their opinion whether the farmers work with animals or crops, or whether their livestock is kept indoor or outdoor. What they especially fear is wolves attacking, financial loss, and loss of pets or livestock.
According to the same report, wolves should be no serious danger to humans in Europe. Just 59 cases of wolves attacking people were seen between year 1950 and 2000. Only 9 of them were fatalities. Even though wolves attack more often in countries like India and Russia, is the causes of death by wolves lower than by other predators.
If more wolves come to Denmark the effects may be that more livestock is taken by the predators, because there will be more wolves roaming closer to humans due to lack of space and prey. This is likely to happen because the population of wolves in Germany is rising and there is nowhere the wolves can go from Denmark unless they go back to Germany. If wolves in this case starts targeting livestock, it might be necessary to regulate them by shooting them intentionally.
However if we take use of the wolf-proof fences, and if there is not enough prey, the effects may be that the wolves dies or wander back to Germany. According to Emil Bøgh Hansen this is very likely to happen: “If there is not enough food, the wolves will die or wander off. They will go back to Germany after a while. If we look at the capacity of wolves then they will not settle down anytime soon.”
But then, if it should happen that wolves settled in Denmark and they became used to humans then it would also be necessary to kill them, since they would be more likely to attack. Morten Lindhard, Nature guide said: “We need to keep the respect and the fear that animals have for humans. If some animals become too used to humans they can end up hurting people.” This is not very likely to happen though, because there are not that many wolves in Denmark yet.
Course of Action
A way to have wolves in Denmark without having to fear them taking livestock or hurting people could be by making reservations or national parks for them.
“If we could make some big nature areas and fence them in, then we could put the animals we wanted to walk freely there. Including predators. We would just need a rule to shoot wolves only if they break out of the area.” as Morten Lindhard told me this, I could only agree. It would be the obvious way to have wolves in Denmark, if we cannot allow them to take livestock from time to time. However, it would take a huge effort from the government to decide the areas location, set up the fence, and set the animals out. We would also have to decide what to do with other wolves coming up from Germany. If we had our own reservation with a self-regulating wolf population then I personally do not see a problem in shooting wild wolves from Germany.
At first I thought there was no space for wolves in Denmark. I thought many people wanted it here, but that the nature in Denmark was not fit for them. It turned out that it was the complete opposite.
The geography and biodiversity of Denmark are without doubt fit for wolves. There is space and prey enough in Jutland and also for a single pack or two on Funen.
However, finding space for the wolf in the mind of the people is difficult. People is especially afraid of wolves attacking, which is not very likely to happen as wolves still bear a natural fear of humans. “Something as simple as making noise when you walk in the forest will make them stay away.” says Emil Bogh Hansen. In worst case, nature guide Morten Lindhard recommend pepper spray or air gun to scare off a threatening wolf.
I think we need to decide what we want in Denmark. On one hand, we can have wild wolves roaming on their own and just live with the fact that livestock is taken once in a while. On the other hand, we can have a few areas with “self-regulating nature” as Morten Lindhard calls it, so we keep the modern world and the nature separated, and avoid conflicts. Alternatively, we can have no wolves at all and continue to complain about the fox as we did before the wolves returned.