Dead Deer: Ferocious Attack Raises Fears of the Wolf's Return to Germany

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A German village is in mourning after a wolf broke into an enclosure and slaughtered 13 much-loved petdeer. Experts are urging farmers to protect their livestock better because the wolf population is set to keep increasing, putting the nation'suneasy, mythical relationship with the beast under strain.

A wolf wandering through a wildlife park in Brandenburg. Zoom
dpa

A wolf wandering through a wildlife park in Brandenburg.

The wolf came in the dead of night, burrowed under the fence of the enclosure and wiped out a herd of fallow deer in a bloodbath that left 13 does dead. Bruno, a buck, was the only survivor, maybe because he was able to defend himself with his antlers, and he has been galloping around in a state of shock ever since.

Owner Wolfgang Schulz, 72, discovered the grisly scene on Sunday and said he and his fellow villagers were deeply saddened by the loss, one of the worst by wolves on livestock since the predators returned to Germany 10 years ago.

"You could see the wolf's paw prints in the snow, he was on his own," Schulz, who lives in Gadow, 50 miles north of Berlin in the eastern state of Brandenburg, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Everyone in the village liked my deer. People would bring buckets of apples to feed them. Children, pensioners, cyclists would come to admire them."

Now their bloody cadavers lie piled up under a tarpaulin on the one-hectare forest site, waiting to be taken away and incinerated.

Inevitably, fresh questions are being asked about the wisdom of letting wolves roam the countryside. The attack is a reminder of Germany's complex relationship with a beast it had hunted to extinction a century ago, but which retains a mythical aura in this wooded land of nature-lovers because it has featured so prominently in national folklore.

€50,000 Fine for Killing Wolf

Schulz suspects that the same wolf has been trying to get at livestock in a 19-kilometer (12-mile) radius in recent months. He has been told that the state of Brandenburg will compensate him for his loss. That is cold comfort because the money won't bring back his deer. But he won't try to take revenge.

"I'm skeptical about wolves," he said. "In the old days people didn't kill them out of malice, it was because of all the damage they did. It wouldn't be a problem to lie in wait and shoot him dead, but I couldn't afford it. It could cost me a €50,000 ($65,000) fine or five years in jail."

Wolves are protected under strict international conservation laws. There are an estimated 50 to 60 of them in Germany, mainly in the Lausitz region bordering Poland and in Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, and their numbers are expected to increase.

They had been extinct in Germany for a century. In communist times, some would occasionally venture into East Germany from Poland, but they were all shot.

German Unification Attracted Wolves

Now they are enjoying almost ideal living conditions in the wilds of eastern Germany, where the human population has decreased by some 10 percent in the economic upheaval that followed unification in 1990. Some wolves have settled on large military exercise sites, oblivious to the gunfire.

Livestock owners regularly complain that rules protecting wolves should be relaxed. But wolf experts insist that if herds are properly shielded with fences, the predators won't pose any problems.

"When things like this happen there's an uproar, but one has to ascertain whether the owners made mistakes," Katharina Weinberg, head of the wolf protection department at the nature conservation group NABU, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

"I hope public acceptance of wolves won't take a hit. There are clear guidelines on putting up suitable fences and installing protection against digging under them. The wolf will kill livestock if he has the opportunity to, and one must take measures to stop him."

'No Bloodlust'

The high body count in Gadow wasn't the result of murderous frenzy, said Weinberg. "Wolves don't get bloodlust. This won't have been a crazed or malicious attack. They hunt and kill whatever moves, and they know they have succeeded when their prey stops moving. The problem was that the prey couldn't escape and kept on moving."

Weinberg said a 2007 study showed that public acceptance of wolves was good in general in Germany. It will need to be, because the wolf population is expected to expand. Wolf cubs leave the pack after one or two years to seek their own territories and will thrive in areas where they can find enough wildlife to eat and keep at a distance to humans.

"Germany must learn to live with the wolf," said Weinberg. "It will be an uneasy peace because he's a major predator, and I can understand why livestock owners, especially the smaller ones, aren't fans."

'Stay Calm if You See One'

Experts say wolves don't pose a threat to humans, and they don't expect the animals to follow the trend of wild boar and foxes that are increasingly venturing into towns and cities in search of food. Wolves are conditioned to regard humans as a threat, and to steer clear of them. That doesn't rule out that they might roam through village streets at night, however.

"If one sees a wolf, one shouldn't approach it and one should stay calm. The wolf will turn away and run off," Vanessa Ludwig, a member of the Wolfsregion Lausitz office, an authority that monitors wolves in the eastern state of Saxony. The population has grown steadily since 2000, when a wolf pair that had wandered in from Poland gave birth to first cubs born on German soil in 150 years.

Ludwig said the incidence of wolf attacks on livestock in Saxony had declined because farmers were protecting their animals better.

As Schulz mourns is deers, he is determined to keep poor Bruno alive and has moved him into a new enclosure. "Everyone is saying the wolf will return because he knows he didn't finish the job."

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