What should you do if you see a wolf? Increased sightings of wolves in Krkonoše

Wolf in the Krkonoše Mountains

There have been a number of reports of wolf sightings in the Krkonoše Mountains over the past few weeks, either in small packs or lone individuals. As the wolf population has steadily grown and become more settled there since they first began returning to the area in 2018, encounters between wolves and humans will only continue to become more and more commonplace.

Miroslav Kutal | Photo: Ľubomír Smatana,  Czech Radio

Miroslav Kutal of Brno’s Mendel University is the Czech coordinator for the new international LIFE WILD WOLF project. Involving eight European countries, the project aims to understand human-wolf interactions in the European cultural landscape and prevent potential critical situations from occurring by developing, testing and evaluating procedures for managing encounters between wolves and humans. I spoke to him about the project and what the return of wolves to Czechia means for us.

“We are in the phase of recolonization of our country by wolves. They started to appear more frequently here in 2013 and since that time they have settled in about 25 - 30 territories in the Czech Republic, which is comparable to Germany, Italy and Scandinavia. The other countries that are part of the Life project have much more experience with wolves, so the public reaction in many areas of this country is still in the beginning.

Wolf in the Lužické Mountains | Photo: Hnutí Duha

“People are still somehow surprised that wolves are returning, and also by the behaviour of wolves, which is more or less normal. But people are not too used to seeing wolves during the daylight, which is common in countries with experience of wolves for a longer period of time.”

There have been reports that people who encountered wolves in Krkonoše were struck by the fact that they didn’t seem very shy. Why is this? Aren’t wolves afraid of humans?

“Most wolves behave like they haven’t observed people for a long time, but there are individual differences. Each wolf behaves slightly differently. Especially young wolves, the yearlings, they aren’t very experienced with people and in some cases they simply observe people, which was the case in the Krkonoše mountains. But we suppose after a few months, the wolves will get more experience with people and they will exhibit more shy behaviour like adult individuals.”

Wolves in the Krkonoše Mountains | Photo: Michal Prouza,  KRNAP

Do wolves represent any danger to humans? Have there ever been reports of wolves attacking humans? They always look kind of cute to me, but then I am a dog lover…

“There is always a possibility, a risk of being attacked. Wolves are like big dogs – you can be attacked by a dog and there is also a chance that you can be attacked by a wolf. But this probability is pretty low if we compare the number of wolves in Europe with the number of people who co-exist with wolves in quite large areas. These attacks are really quite rare exceptions, and are mainly caused by some habituated wolves which were, for example, fed by people. But in normal situations, wolves are not interested in people and don’t attack them in our conditions, in Europe.

Wolf prints | Photo: Petr Kuna,  Czech Radio

“But there can be a danger for dogs if they are not close to their owners and are roaming free around 100 or 200 metres away and they encounter wolves. That can result in an attack, because wolves regard dogs as their competitors, their enemies. So many times, dogs are killed by wolves, and this is present in many countries in Europe.”

What should you do if you encounter a wolf? What is the right way to behave?

“I think you will usually not have much time to think – you can observe, you can take pictures or videos, but you should not try to approach the wolves or come closer towards them, because they are still wild animals and their reactions can be unpredictable. So we recommend people to just observe them and then go back if the wolves don’t run away.”

“In any case, every encounter like this should be documented and reported to us or to the local nature conservation authority, in order to explore more of the behaviour, if it is normal or if it is a wolf that has become habituated to humans.”

Source: Hnutí Duha

I assume you think the return of wolves is good news – but why is it good news for us? Some people are afraid, farmers worry about their livestock – what would you say to convince them that the return of wolves is actually a good thing?

“Wolves are predators and in Central European forests they feed mainly on deer and wild boar. It’s good for the balance in nature, for the regulation of these ungulates which are many times overabundant in the forests.

“The other issue is that wolves simply decided to live in our cultural landscape, they made a compromise, and we as people should also try to find a way to co-exist with wildlife and wild animals, even if it sometimes isn’t very easy, especially for farmers.

Wolf in the national park of Šumava | Photo: Šumava National Park

“I think it’s the only way we can co-exist with nature and to tackle much more serious tasks related to climate change, for example.

“It’s good to think in a different way – that we are not only influencing nature, but really finding a way to compromise.”

The five-year LIFE WILD WOLF project is being implemented in eight EU countries (Czechia, Croatia, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Greece, Slovenia and Sweden). The project is co-financed by the European Union and the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic. The public can support the project by reporting their own wolf sightings, for example to [email protected].