As a consequence of increased wolf population densities, young European wolves are being forced to migrate in search of a new habitat. Austria acts as an important corridor interlinking the three subpopulations located in the surrounding countries, allowing this migration (Fig.1).
Figure 1 Wolf populations and migration routes to Austria. Source: 1
This migration is being seen by some as an invasion. Therefore the question is raised; are these wolves our enemies or allies, a threat or an enrichment of the land?
The main opposition to wolves is by hunters and sheep farmers. This is understandable given the significant economic loss incurred by killed livestock2. There are concerns that farming will be an impossibility due to wolf attack. However in Saxony, Germany, sheep kills reduced from 70 to 23 in 2007 and 2009 respectively, despite the growing wolf population3 (Fig. 2). Successful preventative measures used here that are applicable to Austria include trained Heard dogs, fencing in lowland areas, and most importantly increasing education and awareness,
Figure 2 Development of wolf pack numbers and wolf attacks on small livestock in Saxony, Germany. Source: 2
Other reasons for wolf opposition are based on false assumptions. For example, it is speculated that there is inadequate habitat suitability for wolves. However Austria is 48% forested ergo there is suffice suitable habitat4. Another belief is unavailability of prey, despite the fact there is now more deer than ever before.
Further fears speak of the detrimental impacts to ecosystem functioning. Per contra, wolves are actually of high ecological importance; an apex predator, a keystone species in regulating population of ungulate species and more, as seen in Yellowstone National Park wolf introductions5. In Austria, wolves could actually help to solve the wild boar overpopulation that is currently causing severe crop damage6.
The assumptions have been abolished, now we should abolish the barriers at the borders. Austria is an essential corridor for Europe’s wolf populations. In return they regulate wild boar populations. We need to draw lessons from successful regions to further educational programs and create a nationally uniform plan to be implemented.
Currently, public opinion towards wolves is generally positive (Fig. 3). When local people associate a positive value to wildlife existence, they are more able and likely to support their existence7. Thus the time to act is now! We must welcome wolves to Austria as our allies and habitat enrichers!
Figure 3 Wolves as can enrich the land as our allies Source: 8
- Rauer, G., 2011. Der Wolf in Österreich. Rückeroberung eines Lebensraums und mögliche Auswirkungen. Forschungsinstitut für Wildtierkunde und Ökologie.