Wolves eating less than 1% of German livestock, study finds

Mar 21, 2012
Wolves eating less than 1% of German livestock, study finds

Despite the reappearance of wolves in Germany, local farmers should not worry about these creatures attacking and eating their livestock. Less than 1% of farm animals are on the wolves' menu, new research shows. Presented in the journal Mammalian Biology, the study highlights how wolves will not risk confrontation with guard dogs or hazardous objects in order to secure food.

Zoologists from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Görlitz in probed the feeding habits of wolves in the first eight years since their re-emergence. The team assessed both what wolves currently eat and how their feeding habits have changed over the years. Their results indicate wolves have a high capacity for adapting in order to meet their dietary needs.

Wolves had been wiped out in Germany for many years. However, they are slowly making their way back.

"The dietary habits of wolves has been the greatest point of contention with their return to Germany and it induced us to examine in closer detail the feeding habits of the wolves that migrated to Lusatia over 10 years ago," says Hermann Ansorge, head of the Zoology Department at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Görlitz. "We took a look at what was on the menu for the wolves and how this has changed since the appearance of wolves in East Germany."

The team gathered and tested more than 3,000 samples of wolf scat for undigested evidence of the animals' prey, including bones, hair, hooves and teeth. The data show that wild ungulates represented more than 96% of the wolves' prey, and the majority of these were roe deer (55.3%), followed by red deer (20.8%) and wild boar (17.7%). Hares accounted for almost 3% of prey.

Less than 1% of the prey investigated was of origin, says Ansorge, adding: "As long as sheep and other livestock are well protected and there is a sufficient supply of wild animals, the wolves will not risk with electric fences and guardian dogs. We were interested to find out how, why and how quickly the dietary composition of the wolf has changed in Saxony."

The wolves made their way into Germany from Poland, where they ate mostly red deer. In the first years of the study, the researchers found a significantly higher proportion of red deer consumption over roe deer.

"We asked ourselves why the wolves changed their behavior or whether the initial conditions had changed," Dr. Ansorge says. Compared with Polish forests, those in Lusatia are smaller and are crossed by paths and fields. This means there is more living space for roe deer and wild boar, while usually retreat to the more spacious wooded areas. So are a simple and frequent prey from the wolves' perspective, according to the researchers.

Environmental conditions triggered the changes in the wolves' eating patterns, the researchers suggest. The adapted quickly, needing less than two generations to become used to the new conditions of their new habitat. Currently, 9 wolf packs live in Lusatia with around 34 young. "The potential for conflict between man and wolf is very low,' says Dr. Ansorge. 'There really is nothing standing in the way of the wolf returning."

Explore further: Roaring success: lions return to Rwanda, with rhinos next?

More information: Wagner, C., et al., 'Wolf (Canis lupus) feeding habits during the first eight years of its occurrence in Germany', Mammal. Biol., 2012. doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2011.12.004

Related Stories

Iberian wolves prefer wild roe deer to domestic animals

Oct 23, 2009

A Spanish researcher has analysed the preferences of wolves from the north east of the Iberian Peninsula to demonstrate that, in reality, their favourite prey are roe deer, deer and wild boar, ahead of domestic ...

Wolves would rather eat salmon

Sep 02, 2008

Although most people imagine wolves chasing deer and other hoofed animals, new research suggests that, when they can, wolves actually prefer fishing to hunting. The study, published today in the open access journal BMC Ec ...

Many in West fear wolf reintroduction

Dec 27, 2005

Some 900 wolves roam Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado thanks to a federal program that reintroduced and protected the wolf in the West.

Wolf hunting strategy follows simple rules

Oct 28, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study of wolves (Canis lupus) has found that communication between pack members and a social hierarchy are not essential features of a successful hunt, and all the wolves have to do ...

Recommended for you

Fishing catch research pinpoints best assessment method

4 hours ago

Edith Cowan University researchers are working on tools to improve future fishing management and conservation by developing effective geostatistical methods with which to model the spatial distributions of ...

Shark's unique trek could help save the species

19 hours ago

Her name is Jiffy Lube2, a relatively small shortfin mako shark that, like others of her kind, swims long distances every day in search of prey and comfortable water temperatures.

Cuban, US scientists bond over big sharks

Jul 03, 2015

Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark—a cousin of the storied great white—is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.