A wolf has been recorded stalking the forests of Belgium for the first time in over a century. This now means that wolves have returned to every continental country in Europe after the widespread persecution of the animals in recent times drastically impacted their populations.
“The wolf has stayed near the Flemish town of Beringen and the military base at Leopoldsburg. The animal has covered 500 kilometers (310 miles) in 10 days,” said the Belgian environmental group Landschap. The team has been tracking the wolf, which made its way across the German-Dutch border from the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on Christmas day last year.
Since then, the animal has wandered north, between both the Belgian and Dutch provinces of Limburg, before being recorded around the outskirts of Leopoldsburg. This is the first official record of a wolf in the country for over 100 years, although it is thought that one may have been snapped on a camera trap in the southern province of the Ardennes in 2011, but there were no hairs or spoor to confirm this.
Unsurprisingly, conservationists and environmentalists are welcoming this latest recording. Over the last few hundred years, wolves have been mercilessly persecuted across much of Europe, having been hunted and pushed out of many countries until they were restricted to remote parts of Poland and the Carpathians. In recent times, however, as the notion of “rewilding” Europe has picked up, the wolves have mounted an astounding comeback.
The whole idea of rewilding involving apex predators such as wolves has been a highly contentious point. In many rural parts of France and Spain, for example, farmers have heavily resisted the idea, worried about the threat that the predators may or may not pose to their flocks. These negative perceptions of the animals are further supported by how they are portrayed culturally and within the media.
But despite a certain amount of resistance, one study in 2011 found that even without the help of humans, five European carnivore species are doing a good job themselves at returning to where they used to roam. The research showed how the brown bear, Eurasian lynx, wolverine, gray wolf, and golden jackal were all expanding their ranges naturally, even outside of protected areas.
It seems that regardless of whether people actively want these predators in the countryside, they are moving in anyway, helping to increase and restore the biodiversity and health of ecosystems damaged hundreds of years ago.