The first wolf to be spotted in the Westerwald hill region of western Germany in 123 years was found shot dead on Saturday just a few weeks after it was first sighted.
Hikers discovered the cadaver of the animal that was killed with a large-caliber weapon, suggesting that the perpetrator may be a hunter, police said. The shooting was illegal because the wolf is a protected species, and wildlife conservationists and local hunters said they were appalled by the shooting. The regional hunting association has offered a reward of 1,000 ($1,300) to find the culprit.
"The killing of the wolf must be fully investigated and the person responsible must be held to account,"said Kurt Alexander Michael, president of the Rhineland-Palatinate regional hunting federation. "If it was a hunter, he can expect a high fine and the loss of his hunting license."
The wolf, a large male weighing 30 kilograms (66 pounds), was first seen near the village of Steimel at the end of February. Wildlife experts had said the animal was harmless.
Nature conservation group BUND said in a statement on Monday: "We cannot understand why there are people who don't want to allow space for nature and its creatures. We should be happy that the wolf, made extinct by humans and bedevilled for centuries, is living in the wild in Germany again."
Wolves were hunted to extinction in Germany in the 20th century and only began returning to the country in 2000. So far, they have been confined mainly to the east of the country. More than 100 animals are estimated to be roaming German forests.
Their reintroduction has led to tensions between conservationists on the one side and farmers and hunters on the other but a recent study found that wolves largely feed on animals they find in the wild, and not on livestock such as sheep. However, wolf killings of livestock do happen.