Wolves make a comeback in Germany
Berlin - Wolves seem to like Germany. Deer and young wild boar provide enough for them to eat.
"There are between 100 and 120 wolves currently in the county, almost twice the number in 2010," said biologist Norman Stier.
Stier, who works as forest biologist at the Dresden Technical University, bases his information on up-to-date studies of the wolf population.
These predators, which were wiped out in Germany at the beginning of the last century, have for the past 20 years been re-establishing themselves, primarily on current or disused military training grounds.
Most of the wolves in Germany have settled in the east of the country, feeling sufficiently at home to breed successfully in the regions around Berlin.
Stier believes the packs will continue to spread, as the females follow in the tracks of the more adventurous males who are the first to migrate on maturing.
Not everyone is happy with the increase in this particular wildlife population.
"Every morning I go out feeling uncomfortable," said Hans Fehrmann from Schwarz, which is set among the Mecklenburg lakes north of Berlin.
A year ago, the pensioner lost several reindeer after a wolf managed to get inside their enclosure.
Shortly afterward, most of a flock of sheep suffered serious injuries in a neighbouring town, ensuring that the animal involved was labelled a "problem wolf".
Horst Hildebrandt from Meyenburg north-east of Berlin manages 100 fallow deer, 50 mouflon - or wild sheep - and 20 Scottish beef cattle and is annoyed that farmers' voices are not being heard.
"The threat to animal husbandry is the lowest priority in the discussion," he said. "I'm not worried about the cattle, but it's an issue for the deer. It's not clear how much wolf this country can take."
By contrast, Stier is beginning to discern a "normalisation" in attitudes to the wolf among the general population. The longer that people live with wolves in their region, the more tolerant they become.
He points to Lusatia on the Polish border where attitudes have been changing over the past 10 years. "People go mushrooming in the forests the way they always did. Children play in the woods," he said.
This winter, with its milder temperatures, has passed off better than last, when emotions boiled over following a series of wolf attacks. The wolves, who have repeatedly been captured on camera, have evidently found enough to eat without having to attack farm animals.
Stier believes that wolf countermeasures are also working. For example, Fehrmann, who lost four reindeer and four newly born calves, has reinforced his fences at the cost of several thousand euros. The farmer has installed electrified fencing and a metre-wide barrier to prevent wolves digging under the fencing.
"We remain sceptical, however," Fehrmann said, expressing solidarity with the sheep farmers.
"We are not unprepared," said Sven Grumbach of the sheep farmers' association of the north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, although he adds that no German sheep farmer could look favourably on the unregulated spread of wolves.
Stier himself favours establishing wolves in certain well defined conservation areas, while opponents have formed their own initiative and are planning their next moves to keep them at bay.