After an absence of 134 years, wolves are settling down in Austria once again. 

Camera traps set up in the Allentsteig military training area in Austria's northeasternmost state have captured snapshots of a wolf family: a wolf pair and two pups. The youngsters are the first to be born in the country since the last wolf disappeared in 1882, says WWF Austria.

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The camera trap photos show a wolf pair and two young pups. Image via WWF Austria 

Since 2008, several wolves have made appearances within Austrian borders, but these have been migrants from elsewhere – places like Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland – searching for new territory. These visitors sometimes left telltale signs of their presence (like deer carcasses), but they never stayed. Until now. 

Conservationists suspect the parents of the young pups found their way here from the Lusatia region of Central Europe, and they appear comfortable in their new location. Since the average wolf pack has between four and six members, it's also possible that other individuals have yet to be spotted.

A military training area might seem like an unusual home for a wolf pack, but this large, forested site has everything the predators might need. A big section of Allentsteig's 15,000 hectares is protected, and home to plenty of other wildlife. "Four-fifths of our area accounts for the Natura 2000 protected area. We are trying to balance the demands of nature with the needs of the military," says Johann Zach, a spokesperson for Allentsteig. "You have plenty of space and also a large food supply with roe deer, deer and wild sheep here."

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Image via WWF Austria 
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Image via WWF Austria 

The army has been managing the conservation of the training area for 20 years, and it's happy to see these apex predators return. "The young wolves are under military protection, so to speak," jokes conservationist Otakar Jindrich.

The young wolves in the photographs are around four months old, and if all goes well, they'll remain with their parents for two years, before forging out on their own to form new packs.

More than any other European carnivore, the wolf has suffered relentless persecution at the hands of humans, and by the end of the nineteenth century, the species had been wiped out in Western and Central Europe, clinging to survival only in more remote wilderness in the east and south of the continent, in places like Poland, Romania and Italy.

With increased protections, the animals have been slowly reclaiming some of their ancestral stomping grounds – but not everyone has welcomed their return, and farmers in particular have raised concerns about the safety of their flocks.

With wolf sightings on the rise in recent years, debates about the predators' future have been flaring up in Austria as well. Back in June, a single wolf attacked and killed several lambs and goats in the country's Pinzgau region. The predators are a strictly protected species, so farmers are prohibited from shooting them, but the government does provide compensation for livestock losses.

For conservationists with WWF Austria, the focus is on managing such human-wildlife conflicts. Electric fences around pasturelands and livestock-guarding dogs can help to keep flocks safe, says WWF ecologist Christian Pichler. With such deterrents in place, wolves are much more likely to go after deer.

Pichler also emphasises that wolves are not a danger to humans; the animals are wary of people and encountering them is rare. "If you see a wolf, enjoy it. It is a unique experience," he says. 

Editor’s note: Quotes in this article were translated from German.


Top header image: Mario Madrona, Flickr