Scientists have confirmed that a wolf pack is living in the wilds of Denmark for the first time in two centuries, all thanks to a lone she-wolf who trekked 550 kilometers (341 miles) from northern Germany.
Male Eurasian wolves were first seen again in Denmark in 2012, but now DNA evidence shows that a new female has permanently settled there too. With a female among the four males, experts are hoping large groups of wolves could establishment themselves in the Danish region of west Jutland within the next five years. There's even hopes the wolves could start breeding as early as this spring.
Camera trap footage shot earlier this year has helped confirm the presence of the female, so scientists will have to keep their eyes peeled for photos of the female with full udders around summertime.
"The last wolf in Denmark was killed in 1813, but the species has probably been functionally extinct in Denmark at least since 1750," Peter Sunde, a senior researcher at Aarhus University, told IFLScience, which is why this is so exciting.
The DNA samples gathered from poop by researchers from the Natural History Museum Aarhus and Aarhus University also showed that this female wolf traveled from southwest of Berlin, over 550 kilometers (341 miles) away. Although, Sunde explained, "550 kilometers is a normal natal dispersal [movement from birth site to breeding site] distance for wolves, as has also been documented by GPS-tagged wolves." It's thought she made this journey during the summer of 2016.
Sunde explained that wolves went instinct in Denmark, and other parts of Western Europe, due to the "systematic persecution by humans" after they both unwittingly became competitors and humans hunted them to extirpation. "At that time, wolves were strong competitors with humans as wild populations of ungulates [large mammals such as deer] were strongly depleted, wherefore wolves probably fed widely on livestock," he said. "After wolves were protected by the late 20 century, wolf populations again began to grow and spread from Eastern Europe to Western Europe."
As a result of these efforts, wolves have recently been enjoying a bit of Renaissance. A similar situation has emerged in Austria where wolves have started breeding in the wild for the first time since 1882. It’s thought there are more than 12,000 wolves in central, south, and western Europe. With this resurgence comes new concerns, though. Some Scandinavian countries have begun controversially culling some of their wild wolves due to worries about livestock being eaten.