Wolves making comeback to Europe: Study

Study by Swiss-led team says wolves are returning to many regions in Europe that were formerly their haunts

Timo Kirez  | 28.04.2023 - Update : 29.04.2023
Wolves making comeback to Europe: Study


The iconic wolf, bane of many a classic continental fairy tale, is making a return to the woods and wilds of Europe, according to an international team led by a Swiss scientist.

According to the data, amassed and analyzed by a team led by researcher Daniel Wegmann of the University of Fribourg and published in the journal Biological Conservation on Friday, wolves are returning to many regions in Europe that were once their haunts.

In some places, this is leading to bigger losses of livestock such as sheep, goats, cattle and horses, the research team reported.

In some regions, the number of incidents is falling again or stagnating, probably because livestock owners have established effective herd protection or abandoned grazing.

The team asked officials in 21 European countries for all wolf incidents involving livestock from 2018 to 2020 and then crunched the data.

Not all regions were able or willing to provide data, according to the study. In total, the scientists evaluated 43,500 incidents of damage presumably attributable to wolves.

Of those, they classified 39,200 as "confirmed" or "presumptively correct" wolf-livestock incidents. In those cases, 99,000 livestock were killed, injured, or went missing, as reported from those regions.

Depending on the region, various livestock species most often supplemented the wolves' diet. In Finland, for example, these were reindeer. In Greece, cattle, although sheep are much more abundant there. And in Asturias, Spain, horses appealed to the lupine palate.

"The countries with the most wolf incidents reported to us over the three years are France (9,840), Greece (6,870) and Spain (6,856)," the study said.

"The lowest numbers are in Belgium (79), Latvia (91) and Austria (115)," it added. Most often, the wolves caught sheep. In most cases, several animals were killed, injured or considered missing; in total, there were 71,000 affected sheep.

Overall, there was a 4.2% increase in incidents in Europe during the three years of observation, the researchers report. But analyses of data from Germany shows that the number of incidents there has declined again over time, they said.

According to the study, this could also be due to the fact that in almost all countries in Europe, measures against livestock predation, such as electric fences, guard dogs, and the constant presence of herders, are getting greater financial support.

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