Living with wolves

Today, the wolf is making a European recovery. Enabling coexistence with this often misunderstood predator can deliver multiple benefits to people and nature.

Daniel Allen

Living with wolves

Today, the wolf is making a European recovery. Enabling coexistence with this often misunderstood predator can deliver multiple benefits to people and nature.


The grey wolf in Europe

The Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus) is often portrayed as Europe’s top native predator. On average it weighs around 40 kg, with relatively short and coarse tawny fur. Wolves are highly social animals that live in extended family groups called packs. The territory of each pack is typically between 100 and 500 square kilometres. Adaptable and resilient, wolves can survive in a variety of habitats, including forests, tundra, mountains, swamps and deserts. Young wolves disperse alone over long distances, potentially travelling several thousand kilometres.

The widespread comeback of deer, wild boar and other prey species across Europe has enabled wolves to expand their range from the few places in which they were not driven to extinction (northwest Spain, southern Italy, parts of the Balkans, and Polesia). Wolves are nature’s way of restoring the balance following the expansion of wild herbivore populations.

Co-existence - the way forward

Alessandro Sgro

Awareness, acceptance and action

Today, there is growing support for rewilding and wildlife comeback. But this comes with its own challenges. With wolves absent from many parts of Europe for hundreds of years, Europeans are now learning to live with these iconic and ecologically important animals once again.

In our rewilding landscapes we support co-existence by raising awareness and helping communities to take preventive measures. We also develop co-existence models, which allow people to benefit from wildlife comeback – for example, through wildlife watching and nature-based tourism. This is increasing the acceptance of wolves and the ongoing recovery of wolf populations.

Keystone carnivore: why we need wolves

The wolf is a so-called apex predator and plays a key role in European ecosystems. As a keystone species, wolves have both a direct and indirect impact on prey populations. Besides direct predation, wolves affect the behaviour of their prey through the so-called “ecology of fear“, meaning the presence of a predator also induces behavioural and physiological changes in prey species. This has a positive impact on the landscape, enabling many other plants and animals to flourish. In this regard, wolves initiate a domino effect, affecting species as diverse as birds, beavers, fish and butterflies.

Without the presence of predators such as wolves, ecosystems are less balanced, less healthy, and support less abundant wild nature – this means they are less able to deliver the benefits that humans rely on, such as clean air and fertile soil. When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in the western United States in 1995 after a 70-year absence, their comeback ignited a chain reaction, boosting the restoration of ecosystems that had been degraded in their absence.

The presence (or absence) of apex predators in ecosystems can also have a huge impact on climate – researchers estimate that the presence of wolves in all boreal forests in the United States would increase carbon storage by up to 99 million tonnes. Last but not least, the wolf is an iconic wildlife species that can act as a major tourism drawcard.

Towards coexistence with wolves

Concerns over wolves and their comeback in Europe clearly need to be addressed, particularly when it comes to livestock depredation. Yet the misguided suggestion of simply eradicating wolves is expensive, frequently unfeasible, and means we lose the wide-ranging benefits that these amazing animals can deliver. Today, with more and more Europeans expressing a desire to live alongside wolves, there are a number of ways to ensure that humans and wolves can live alongside each other without conflict.

The wolf in our rewilding landscapes

In the Rhodope Mountains, Velebit Mountains and Greater Côa Valley we are supporting natural wolf comeback by boosting the availability of natural prey such as red deer, fallow deer and roe deer, as well as promoting coexistence with people.

Wolf (Canis lupus) Wild Carpathian Wolf photographed in Bieszczady Mountains, the Carpathians; Carpathian Mountains; Bieszczady Mountains; Poland.

Eurasian wolf

Canis lupus lupus

The Eurasian wolf is currently found in four of Rewilding Europe’s ten rewilding landscapes: the Velebit Mountains(Croatia), Rhodope Mountains (Bulgaria), Southern Carpathians (Romania) and Oder Delta (Germany/Poland).

Apennine / Italian wolf (Canis lupus italicus) male and female. Abruzzo, Central Apennines, Italy. Mar 2010

Italian wolf

Canis lupus italicus

The Italian grey wolf subspecies (Canis lupus italicus, also known as the Apennine wolf) is found in our Central Apennines rewilding landscape in Italy.

Iberian wolf in the wild

Iberian wolf

Canis lupus signatus

And the Iberian wolf subspecies (Canis lupus signatus) is found in our Greater Côa Valley rewilding landscape in Portugal.

A remarkable return

Wolf population Europe

As outlined in Rewilding Europe’s latest European Wildlife Comeback Report (2022), the wolf is now making a comeback in Europe – along with other predators such as bears, lynx, and wolverines. According to a report prepared by the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe in 2022, there are currently around 19,000 wolves distributed across the 27 EU Member States (compared to 14,300 in 2016), and 21,500 across Europe as a whole (compared to 17,000 in 2016).  As the European wolf population grows, so its geographical distribution is also increasing – the range of the wolf in Europe has expanded by 25% over the last decade alone.

Resilient & adaptable

There are a number of reasons why the wolf is making a European recovery. Increased public acceptance of wolves has been instrumental in the implementation of legal protection across much of the animal’s European range, with legislation and heightened acceptance leading to a decrease in poaching and exploitation.

Thanks to its resilience and adaptability, the wolf has spread into many types of habitat, expanding from historical refuges and dispersing over long distances. In many parts of Europe it has also benefitted from the comeback of prey species such as deer and wild boar.

The increased presence of the wolf in European landscapes frequently generates negative emotions in local people and stakeholders. Grey wolves can predate livestock and compete with hunters.

Wolf predation in Europe: Facts

Daniel Allen/ Rewilding Europe

Wolves & humans

Bruno D'Amicis / Rewilding Europe

Wolves & livestock

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