Archive Content

Please note: This page has been archived and its content may no longer be up-to-date. This version of the page will remain live for reference purposes as we work to update the content across our website.

© Chris Martin Bahr / WWF
1. Why did the wolves disappear?
2. How did the wolves return to Europe?
3. Why is the return of the wolf in Europe such a big issue of concern?
4. Should the wolf be present in all European countries?
5. Is the return of the wolf putting pastoralism in danger?
6. Can guardian dogs protect livestock?
7. Does the return of the wolf bring financial benefits?
8. Do the wolves hunt for fun?
9. Will rural communities accept wolves more if we allow to kill more wolves?
10. Are farmers compensated for loss of livestock killed by wolves?

1. Why did the wolves disappear?

Towards the end of the 18th century, wolves were still found in most of Europe, but their numbers decreased a lot because of prey species, systematic persecution and the reduction in habitats.

By the 1970s, the wolf was only present in parts of southern and north-eastern Europe.

2. How did the wolves return to Europe?

Important reasons for return of the wolf are:
  • political stability,
  • urbanization and land abandonment (especially in Southern and Eastern Europe),
  • burgeoning populations of prey species (e.g. wild boar, deer)
  • financial support for preventive non-lethal livestock protection such as electric fences, so farmers don't resort to shooting them for killing livestock.
Numbers of wolves have increased since 1960 from 5.000 to around 12.000 today.

Legal protection helped with the conservation. In 1979, the wolf was recognized Europe-wide as a strictly protected species under the Bern Convention. In 1992, the EU Habitats Directive further detailed and formalized the legal protection of the wolf.  
3. Why is the return of the wolf in Europe such a big issue of concern?

In reality wolves never completely left Europe. In places where the wolf had gone extinct, its return creates challenges for humans and wolves living together – especially where wolves are in competition with humans (e.g. with hunters and farmers for the livestock).

Demonisation of the wolves is strengthened by fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood. A lot of these stories are the result of human-wolf conflicts since the start of livestock farming. In older storytelling (e.g. Germanic or Native American), mutual respect for the wolf was much higher.

4. Should the wolf be present in all European countries?

Wolf is a so-called ‘habitat generalist’ which means he can survive in a wide range of landscapes, also human-dominated agricultural landscapes. This means it could thrive in nearly every corner of Europe, and historically it did.

Because of wolf's importance for Europe's natural ecosystems and a choice to protect the wolf, it should be allowed to re-establish itself in places where it feels at home. 

5. Is the return of the wolf putting pastoralism in danger?

No. Wolf attacks on livestock represent a small economic risk to traditional farming, especially where appropriate preventive measures are in place. Cases of sheep farmers who are successfully using preventive measures to live with wolves exist. 

Moreover, farmers in nearly every EU Member State with wolves get support for not bearing additional costs caused by wolve attacks on livestock. The EU’s second largest budget item intended for direct payments to farmers and rural development  public goods. This includes preventive and compensation subsidies for wolf management.

Other factors, e.g. a low price for livestock products and the spread of animal diseases, pose much more important operational risks.

6. Can guardian dogs protect livestock? 

Yes, guardian dogs are one solution to protect livestock. 

These dogs are not trained to attack wolves, but to bark loudly and defend the flock by positioning themselves between the wolf and the flock of sheep to frustrate the wolf attack. The barking should alert the shepherd, who can take action.

It is that the visitors don't  treat guardian dogs as pets and take a safe distance from flocks with dogs in the absence of a shepherd. 

7. Does the return of the wolf bring financial benefits?

Specialised tourism and eco-tourism agencies in Spain, Finland, and Sweden depend on large carnivores. Also in France the economic prospects linked with the return of the wolf are explored.

This has positive effect, especially for the less economically developed areas in Europe, where the majority of the remaining large carnivores. Learn more about why we need the large carnivores.

Wolves bring other economic benefits, like the delivery of ecosystem services (e.g. reducing natural over-grazing in forests and the damage of wild boar to agriculture). Unfortunately these benefits have been, in comparison to the damages of wolves themselves, poorly studied. 

8. Do the wolves hunt for fun?

Wolves do not kill for fun, like other predators, they kill for survival.

Wolves occasionally kill more animals than needed. This behaviour is called ‘surplus killing’. They kill more prey than they can immediately eat and then cache or abandon the remainder.
9. Will rural communities accept wolves more if we allow to hunt more wolves?  

There is no scientific evidence that a steered hunting regime is either a suitable or a sustainable solution to wolf-related conflicts. The killing of individual wolves actually increases livestock plunder.
Killing of beta and alpha pack members by hunters can lead to a breakdown in the order, more breeding pairs and thus more raids on livestock. Established livestock protection measures can help keep wolves from attacking livestock without lethal management of wolf packs.

Several studies were made, showing that killing of the wolves doesn't change people's attitudes towards the remaining wolves.

10. Are farmers compensated for loss of livestock killed by wolves?

Nearly every European country with wolves has a compensation scheme in place to pay farmers for the economic damages posed by large carnivore attacks on livestock

The share of compensation depends on the systems (often regional) governments have put in place. In several countries the compensation is not 100% and farmers often get incentives to prevent attacks. Public subsidies for preventive measures are available in different EU and national funding lines.

Unfortunately in several regions in Europe farmers face bureaucratic barriers to submit damages or need to wait extremely long before being compensated.


Stefania Campogianni

Communication Manager

WWF Mediterranean,<br /> WWF MEDPO

+39 06 844 97 443