The wolf has been making a return across Europe, and began to reappear in the Czech Republic in the last three years. Currently, there are an estimated 50 to 80 wolves in the Czech Republic.
“Wolves are spreading from several directions. Three populations that are expanding … Carpathian, Alpine and Lusatian lowlands. They are all expanding,” Aleš Vorel from the Czech University of Life Sciences (ČZU) in Prague, told public broadcaster Czech Television (ČT).
“In the last 50 years, the places where the wolf occurs have increased. It is not an artificial planting, it is a spontaneous process,” Vorel added. A documentary called Návrat vlka (Return of the Wolves) airs on ČT24 on June 21 at 8:25 pm, in Czech.
In 2019, the number of wolf habitats totaled 18, an increase of three over the previous year. Some 16 of the habitats are in border regions. Further increases are expected this year.
Vorel said an important change came in 2000 when Poland introduced year-round protection for wolves. This created conditions for the wolves to increase and spread to new environments.
Sheep breeders claim the wolves are leading to loss of sheep, who graze in natural terrain. Wild dogs used to be responsible for losses, but more recently wolves have taken over in some areas.
In 2017, breeders submitted a project to the Ministry of the Environment to protect them from wolves. They applied for support in buying shepherd dogs and fences. The breeders will soon try again for state help, but are not optimistic.
Breeders have had to change their routines and corral the sheep in the evening, guarded by dogs, rather than let the sheep be out all night.
There is disagreement over how to handle the situation. Some breeders are calling for wolf quotas to protect the herds, with the excess number of wolves being culled. Others say wolves are a part of nature, and should be respected.
In 2018, there were over 300 wolf attacks on sheep in the Czech borderlands. ČZU’s Vorel claims that if shepherds secure their flocks, the wolves will seek easier prey such as wild deer. In Krušné hory, for example, a combination of watchdogs and herding dogs has proven to be effective.
He looks to eastern Germany for inspiration, where electric fences, dogs and security systems are used to protect sheep from that area’s wolves, which possibly number into the hundreds.
While wolves have a reputation for being dangerous, encountering one is highly unlikely. Vorel says that wild boar are more dangerous and more common, and therefore pose a greater risk.