Visiting the wolves in Western Poland

Those two nosy little wolf pups were born in the Forest of Lower Silesia in Poland in 2013.  © Robert Myslajek

Sundown is just over, twilight is settling in.

There is no wind, no noises.

Suddenly I hear a long, ascending howl. After that: new silence. I stand there with my ears pricked, waiting to hear the answer – which doesn’t come.

The polish biologists Sabine Nowak and Robert Myslajek of the nature conservation organization “Wolf” are accompanying me on this trip, we are in the middle of a wide, semi-open moorland in the Forest of Lower Silesia near the Polish-German border.

We are using a so-called “howl-animation” to find out if there are any wolves nearby. This one of many methods used by scientists in wolf monitoring, unfortunately it doesn’t always work. Obviously today the wolves don’t feel like answering. We have already found a lot of evidence for wolves living in the area: wolf-typical footprints, fresh and old scat.       

IFAW has been supporting Sabine Nowak’s and her colleague’s wolf monitoring in Western Poland for a couple of years now. The animals of this region form a population together with the German wolves. It is the Central-European lowland population. Its status of endangerment was just lately reviewed and adapted by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

Now the wolves belonging to this population are no longer threatened with extinction but “only” severely endangered. That is an encouraging success for species- and nature conservation.

Anyhow this population is still very small and endangered by various factors. It is still necessary to provide consequent protection – with a good monitoring as a precondition. This scientific monitoring with its secured findings is also very important for the prevention and minimization of human-wolf-conflicts – one of the reasons for IFAW’s getting involved. 

The kids at the small village school are quite excited about the report on wolves living in their immediate neighborhood. © Robert Kless

The next day we visit the nearby village’s primary school. All students have gathered in the gym waiting for Sabine Nowak to start her speech – a speech about the wolves which live literally “on the doorstep” in this region.

I can see that these kids are really interested and fascinated by the subject of wolves, they are all listening attentively. Events such as this one are very important for our work. If already children learn about wolves and their activities, if already children understand that the wolf does not represent a danger for humans this will help a lot with a region’s acceptance of the wolf. 

Straight after the school event we head back to the woods, driving through the wolf area with an SUV. Our vehicle’s wheels grind through the deep sand until we stop at a crossing of two forest trails. We follow the unpaved roads’ edges keeping our eyes peeled.

Typically this would be the place for wolves’ tracks. And we do find some in the sand: very fresh wolf scat as well as cinch marks for marking purposes. All this looks suspiciously like a wolf having been here.

In order to make sure we take a little sample for DNA-testing. Thus we can later make sure it was really a wolf plus we can find out the wolf’s origin and relation to other wolves. Samples such as this one also give us knowledge about a wolf’s diet. All this information is important for effective protection of wolves.

We carefully measure a wolf cave which was used as nursery last spring. This way we can check next year whether this cave has been reused by wolves. © Robert Kless

A couple of hundreds of meters away we find a wolf cave with various entrances. We measure it and analyze it regarding location and visibleness.

We take down all the details and enter them into a GPS-device. Sabine Nowak knows this cave and she also knows that just last spring a wolf vixen used this shelter with her pups. Meanwhile the cave has been deserted – but it might be used again next year, with new pups.

And fortunately the chances for this happening are very good! 

--RK

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*This post was translated from its German original.

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