Home range and habitat selection of wolves recolonising Central European human-dominated landscapes

Submitted by editor on 20 May 2024.

By Ales Vorel

On April 23, 2024 our team (Czech University of Life Sciences from Prague), which conducts telemetry research on wolves in the České Švýcarsko National Park as part of the Interreg Redema project, received information about the hunting of roe deer by at least two wolves on the edge of the small. It is a small town of Mikulášovice (peripheral area of the National Park České Švýcarsko in the North of Czechia). The mentioned event took place in the early morning and in a very peripheral part of the settlement - near the last house, which is surrounded by meadows and then forests. The whole event was very well documented by the cameras on the house.

Our interpretation is that the wolves chased wild prey (roe deer Capreolus capreolus) in the surrounding pastures early in the morning, the deer probably wanted to slip past the last house, but ran into the open gate and found itself in the fenced garden and thus in the trap. One wolf ran into the garden after him, effectively killed him there and then dragged him away from the vicinity of the inhabited building. It is clear from the videos that the wolf has a collar, and it is highly likely that the other wolf (which appears in the footage behind the fence) also had a collar. These are our research equipment that we installed in previous months as part of cross-border and scientific projects (more here). It can therefore also be proven by the location record that the marked wolves were present at the place on the given day and time (see figure; 2 hours must be added to the time data, UTC time is displayed).

Wolves have been roaming this border zone for more than 10 years (it is closely positioned to dense Saxonian wolf population). From our collar data It follows that they are dominantly found in forests of the entire region (the proportion of data from research collars speaks of 70% of points that are in forest stands). However, their space and food requirements do not allow them to occur only in forests, so 30% of them also appear in forest-free areas (meadows, pastures). The reason why wolves, to a lesser extent, but regularly appear in meadows and clearings, is the abundance of natural prey that lives there (certainly roe deer, wild boars, and to a lesser extent also red and fallow deer).

The fact that wolves also hunt in the outskirts of cities and villages of Central Europe is only a manifestation of the fact that prey can move and run through the edge of the inner village when an attack is detected - and the wolves can simply follow it. It is evident that a wide range of animal species of the region have always (even today) lived here in the countryside of villages and towns - it is not unusual to come across roe deer, hares, mouflons or wild boars in the middle of towns and villages at night or early in the morning (e.g. many gardeners and gardeners have to protect their vegetation against their taste even in scattered buildings). It cannot be surprising then that their predators (foxes or wolves) sometimes come to intravillans for spice. In most cases, these visits take place during the evening or night hours, when human-emptied intravillans do not pose a threat to animals. In any case, the provided records are not evidence of a loss of shyness or perhaps growing audacity of wolves, it is only a natural manifestation of hunting for prey at night. However, according to our data, wolves hunt in intravillans very rarely.

In conclusion, wolves in Central Europe do not have much other options than to partially colonize even forestless areas. Our data says that more than 35% of their occurrence falls precisely in non-forested landscapes around human settlements (see our last article DOI: 10.1002/wlb3.01245).