UPDATE (July 5, 2017):

Remarkable first-time footage confirms that one of Denmark's West Jutland wolves has given birth. Eight rambunctious pups were spotted near the town of Holstebro by local resident Henrik Sahlholdt recently. While wolves in the region still have a long way to go on the road to recovery, the recent news is an extremely promising start. The litter marks the first for Denmark in over 200 years. Read below for more details about the wolf's return to this corner of the world. 


Anyone born in Denmark after 1813 would not get the chance to see a wild wolf on home turf: the last confirmed specimen was shot in the early nineteenth century. It's been a howl-free country ever since.

Until December 2012, that is, when rumours of a wolf wandering the Danish countryside were confirmed by a group of bird-watchers who spotted the elusive canine walking through a local nature reserve. It was the first time in almost 200 years that one of these predators had been seen in the country. As it turns out, the lone straggler was in pretty bad shape: an inflamed tumour was preventing it from eating, and it eventually died of its injuries, bringing all the renewed excitement to an abrupt halt.

Wolves howl for a variety of reasons including to assemble the pack, to signal an alarm, to locate each other, or to communicate across great distances. Image: Paul Gleghorn

Although the wolfish "return" was all too fleeting, experts saw the lone animal as a harbinger of more to come. And sure enough, in January this year, a group of wolf enthusiasts recorded what they believe to be the country's first resident wolf family. Eerie howls recorded in the Jutland region seem to indicate that a whole pack has moved in on this previously wolf-free terrain. (Click here and scroll down to listen to the recordings).

"There's at least two adults there. One with a nice deep howl, which is almost a baseline to the chorus, is probably the male and father of the pups, as it's rare to have unrelated males in the same pack," says wolf expert Holly Root-Gutteridge. "There are possibly three adults, but I need more analysis of the recording to be sure. There are also pups on there."

Humans have always had a bit of a rocky relationship with these apex predators. Historically, wolves have been the most widely distributed mammals in the world, and they've made a habit of picking off the occasional lamb or calf at the expense of their "friendship" with the agricultural community. Organised efforts to exterminate the predators were first launched in the early Middle Ages. Many European countries offered hunting bounties, and famed leader Charlemagne even went so far as to create a special corps of wolf hunters called the louveterie. Times were tough for Europe's wolves.

Wolf Distribution 2014 04 24
Range map of grey wolves. Green = present; red = former

After hundreds of years of persecution, populations finally began to recover in the 1950s, when increased public awareness and legal protection saw wolves regaining some of their former territory. To their advantage, wolves are a tenacious bunch, and all it took in many regions was a ban on the use of poisons to send their numbers climbing again. According to a study commissioned by Rewilding Europe, "[t]he species is highly adaptable, and with the recent spread into western Europe, continuing range expansion is extremely likely."

Denmark's neighbour Germany has experienced a boom in wolf numbers over the last ten years (more on that here), and experts believe that as the canids extend their range in search of suitable real estate, the Nordic country may also start to see an increase. Although that news tends to worry farmers, research elsewhere indicates that livestock losses due to wolf predation are not really significant enough to cause concern. A long history of fear and misinformation makes life tricky if you're a wolf sharing habitat with humans, so let's hope Denmark's new inhabitants will get along with their neighbours. 



Top header image: Cathy/Flickr
Source: Rewilding Europe