“The pictures make it clear that the wider area of Berlin-Brandenburg has finally become wolf territory,” said Janosch Arnold of the WWF in a statement.
The crucial point is that the wolves in Sperenberg, western Brandenburg, are from an established family unit – not just individuals which drifted over the border from Poland.
Their proximity to Berlin is bound to raise interest, even though wolves rarely venture into urban areas. The researchers are keen to see the wolves tolerated and to prevent conflicts with farmers as has been seen occasionally in other places where the canines have returned.
“The aim must be to guarantee a seamless management of the wolf population and to avoid conflicts with livestock farmers, hunters, and tourism,” said Arnold.
The pack was photographed by WWF researchers on Thursday using night-vision technology. The rare sighting followed tip-offs from local residents about the presence of wolves in the area.
Sightings of wolves have become increasingly common in Germany since they were put under protection in 1990. Population growth, however, has been slow, with few packs reproducing.
In 2006 there was only one known family in the country with successful offspring, fittingly in Saxony, where the ‘last wolf’ of Germany had been shot in 1904.
The return of wolves to Germany has not been without controversy. A WWF report on the wolf population admits that they are often received with “mixed feelings”. Wolf attacks on sheep herds in 2002 in Mühlrose, killing 33 sheep, led to the introduction of closer wolf management strategies.
But humans who see wolves ought to feel privileged rather than afraid, said Arnold.
“There’s no need to be worried – quite the reverse,” he told the taz newspaper. “You have the chance to enjoy a rare sight, afforded to only a few people.”
Wolves are not the only predator making a comeback. The endangered European wildcat has also been spreading through the country’s woods, a report suggested on Monday.
The study by the German League for Environment and Conservation and the Federal Agency for Conservation revealed that numbers of the powerful cats had risen to between 5,000 and 7,000.