Wolf expert Bob Hayes presents his new book “Wolves of the Yukon”
It was no everyday place for a meeting: under spotlights stood bear, bison, red deer and wolf. The chairs were set out between skeletons of polar bear and whale. Many friends of the wolf attended this event, held jointly by the Hamburg University Zoological Museum and IFAW. The Canadian wolf researcher and author Bob Hayes was invited to present his new book “Wolves of the Yukon” and to speak about his exciting experiences and discoveries from his work as a wolf researcher spanning decades.
IFAW Germany has been working for over 10 years on the topic of wolves in Germany and Poland. For this reason it made sense to invite Bob and give presentations to report about wolves in Germany in addition to the Canadian Yukon.
As the IFAW-Germany wolf expert, I first gave a brief summary of the situation of wolves in Germany.
The current statistics are encouraging: In Germany there are presently 14 packs in the states of Saxony, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt and a number of lone wolves in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Lower Saxony. In total, it likely amounts to somewhere between 100 and 120 animals. Certainly, this number is soon set to rise once this year’s cubs are born.
The wolf numbers in eastern Germany and western Poland has developed well over the last 12 years, but it is still relatively small and precarious. Risks remain from the limited genetic variation and consequent vulnerability to disease. In addition, there are the dangers presented by road traffic (since 2000 at least 27 wolves were killed in road collisions in Germany) as well as illegal shootings (since 2000 only seven cases have been reported, but there are certainly many more unreported).
Following my description of the situation in Germany, Bob began his report about the wolves in Yukon, Canada as part of his book presentation. The situation of wolves in the Yukon is a complete contrast to ours: A territory that is one point three times the size of Germany is populated by only 30,000 people and about 5,000 wolves.
Bob Hayes was engaged as a biologist for wolves by the government of the Yukon for 20 years, originally to study the effectiveness of the methods then in use to control the wolf numbers. Wolves were being decimated on a massive scale with traps, poisons and by shooting from airplanes and helicopters. Right from the start, Bob regarded such measures skeptically. Finally, he was able to provide evidence that the widespread use of poisons was endangering other animals, such as coyotes and wolverines. He also showed that only a few years after the cull, wolf numbers had recovered to their original level once more. Managing the numbers this way was therefore not possible over the long term – and is also unnecessary: The wolf population regulates itself naturally, without human intervention. As a result, Bob was largely instrumental in stopping the senseless and brutal methods of wolf management.
Bob Hayes also reported an astonishing phenomenon:
During the winter, the Yukon wolves mainly feed on elk. Calculated per wolf per year, the wolves in larger packs kill significantly fewer elks on average than those in a smaller pack or hunting as a breeding pair. The reason for this came as a surprise: From his research, Bob discovered that as scavengers, ravens quickly enjoined in eating what remains as soon as the wolves had had their fill. With a larger pack, the cadaver is almost completely devoured by the wolves. By comparison, a smaller pack or pair would devour the elk over a much longer period. However, in this case the ravens have longer to participate in consuming the elk and take up to 80% of the kill. This means that a small pack only benefit from a tiny fraction of their kill and so must go hunting again sooner to kill further elk.
The presentation by Bob Hayes reminded me once again just how important it is to scientifically observe, understand and learn about how the animals live, how they live together and what part they play in the ecosystem. Of course, this also applies to our neck of the woods, especially after the absence of a regular wolf presence in large parts of Europe for over 150 years. To know where and how the wolf lives is essential to provide the best protection for these shy returnees.
Translation from the German original: Alan Frostick