Wolves in Germany Are Making a Comeback, And The Military Is Weirdly Helping

Humanity has always had an uneasy relationship with wolves. They loom large in our ancient mythologies as fearsome beasts; over the millennia, that fear has led to devastation of wolf populations across Europe, including 19th century Germany.

In the 1960s, numbers of wolves (Canis lupus) in Europe hit an all-time low, veering perilously close to the brink of extinction. But in recent years they've been gradually coming back to Germany; now, new research has found they are assisted by an unlikely ally - the German military.

That assistance is not, mind you, on purpose. There have actually been several contributing factors to wolf populations growing by 36 percent annually, including the implementation of laws in the 1980s and 1990s to protect wildlife, along with a slow increase in wild ungulate numbers across Europe, resulting in more food for the wolves.

Still, there is an interesting correlation. Ilka Reinhardt, a biologist and wolf expert with LUPUS, the German Institute for Wolf Monitoring and Research, noticed something peculiar about the canine predators creeping back into Germany's forests.

Wolves moving into new areas settled first in military training areas (MTAs). Without exception.

Only once wolves had initially settled into those unfenced military areas did they move into surrounding territories nearby, outside the military area. But if they moved a long distance away, they would, once again, choose a military area to establish the initial territories.

It seemed like an odd coincidence, especially since specially designated protected areas should have been attractive to the animals. Reinhardt and her team started investigating it and found that the military training areas had a lower rate of wolves killed by humans - even more than protected areas (PAs).

In particular - there's less poaching on military land, and fewer wolves die at the hands of poachers in military areas compared to non-military areas. That contrast could be down to how these regions are managed.

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