Originally Published in October, 2016, revised Feb 25, 2018.
By Roy L Hales
One of my wife’s fondest memories of Germany is the well maintained trails going through idyllic forests. She was visiting relatives during the late 1960’s and early 70’s. My impressions are both much later, and connected to the development of renewables. After my second trip to Germany, last year, I asked Andreas König, Head AG Wildlife Biology and Wildlife Management at the Technical University of Munich, where are Germany’s bears, wolves and eagles?
Common Throughout British Columbia
These creatures are relatively common throughout my native British Columbia.
Though I hear the local pack howl maybe three or four times a year, I had not seen a wolf on my native Cortes Island when I originally wrote this story. The principal evidence I had of their presence was other people’s stories. Since then, one wandered into my back yard. Forgetting everything I had learned through interviews, I stood there muttering “Is that a wolf?” while the creature exited back into the forest.[1. British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations’ “best estimate” is there are 8,500 wolves in B.C., but concedes there could be as few as 5,300 or as many as 11,600.]
Considering that Cortes is only 6 miles wide and 16 miles long, this shows how readily wolves adapt to the presence of humans.
Bears are much more visible.
There are 7,000 black bears on Vancouver Island. [2. Debbie Bowman, “Becoming Bear Aware”, IN FOCUS MAGAZINE, Spring 2016, p 4]
One of my cousins, in the Lower Mainland, told me someone was raiding their outdoor freezer. He eventually discovered it was a bear that had learned how to open the freezer’s door!
There supposedly is not a resident bear population on Cortes Island. However these creatures swim from island to island and a black bear occasionally wanders through my yard.
Eagle sightings are commonplace.[3. There were two nests close to my home when I lived in Campbell River, and another not far from where I now live on Cortes Island. As many as a hundred eagles per day come to a stretch of the Fraser River east of Mission. According to Ocean Adventures, there are 20,000 bald eagles in British Columbia.
Where are Germany’s Bears, Wolves and Eagles?
Travelling within Germany, I was taken aback to learn of the absence of wild predators.
The last of Germany’s native bears and wolf populations died out in the 19th century.
There are stories of wolves coming back through Poland and the Czech Republic, which the media reported as “a serious wolf problem.”
Coming from a country where predators are still abundant, I found this difficult to comprehend.
Andreas König explained , “We are not able to appreciate the influence of missing predators on wildlife populations in Germany, because we have not data about wildlife populations and their quantity in this century.”
Humans have replaced bears and wolves as Germany’s top predator.
“So, have rodents and ungulates flourished?” I asked.
“Yes , they did, but there are a lot of factors influencing population dynamics of rodents and ungulates, for example changes in agriculture or climate. I think, that landscape changes had more influence on rodents and ungulate populations in Germany than the disappearance of predators as predator density was very low since several hundred years,” he said.
The Reintroduction of Wolves
Germany’s first wolf sighting, in modern times, occurred in 1998.
A recent story in the Telegraph states there are about 150 in east Germany and a pack of eight wolves was seen thirty miles from Hamburg.
I asked König, “Now that wolves are coming back, I have seen a few headlines about Germany’s ‘wolf problem.’ What do you believe is the solution?”
“What we see is the same discussion we have seen in USA 20 or 30 years ago as wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and wolves moved back to Montana or Wyoming. We need get information to people, financial support to farmers and endless discussions with hunters, that wolves are not a pest. On the other hand we need an action plan about areas where wolves are accepted and what happens if one wolf is dangerous. Actually it is forbidden to kill any wolf,” said König.
Will There Ever Be A Bear Population?
“Do you believe there will ever be a wild bear population in Germany again?” I asked.
“No, as we have only a few small areas, which are suitable for a bear population. I could imagine, that there will be a bear population in Austria and single bears will visit Bavaria some times,” he said.
Good News About Eagles
He had good news about Germany’s eagle population.
“We have sea eagles and golden eagles in Germany. Sea eagles we find in higher densities in the northeastern part (580 breeding pairs), but there are also single breeding pairs at a lot of lakes all over Germany. In the Bavarian alps we find a high density of golden eagle (48 breeding pairs), but not outside of the alp. The main reason is the lack of food,” said
“We haven’t wildlife monitoring for most populations and the influence of other factors on population dynamics in Germany or Europe are high.”
“Sea eagles have a little influence on waterfowl and fish, but our waterfowl populations are increasing as well. They also eat innards of hunted ungulates, that’s why we have a discussion about unleaded bullets.”
“Golden eagles have no influence on ungulates in the alps, because their population is increasing and they are regulated by hunters. They also eat carrion of wildlife and livestock.”
There are no plans to encourage the growth of Germany’s eagle population. König said sea eagles do not need help and there is not sufficient food for golden eagles outside of the alps.
How Important Are Germany’s bears, wolves and eagles?
I asked him, “How important do you believe it is to have natural predators like bears, wolves and eagles?”
“Generally, I think it is important to have predators, but only at some suitable areas and at a low density. Germany has a much higher human population density than the USA and in many areas we expect conflicts between humans and predators. I can imagine, that we will have some bears at the south and eastern border of Bavaria together with Austria; Sea eagles all over Germany and wolves as well all over Germany, but concentrated at certain places at a low density. Suitable areas for wolves are military areas or mountainous areas in the south as well as in the middle of Germany,” said König.
Top Photo Credit: German Forest by Bartosz Makara via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)