Two female wolves have settled into the Veluwe area of the Netherlands, marking the first time the country has had an established wolf population in nearly 150 years. The animals are being tracked by ecologists from several conservation groups including Wolven in Nederland.
For centuries wolves were found throughout Europe, including the Netherlands, but people saw them as a threat and began hunting them. The last wolf was seen in the country in 1869, the group reports.
Recently wolves began returning and occasionally were spotted in the Netherlands beginning in 2015. Those early sightings were thought to be animals that lived in Germany that would cross the border once in awhile, reports the BBC.
But sightings continued to increase. At least eight different wolves were present in the Netherlands in the first half of 2018. Four were spotted between November 2018 and January 2019, according to Dutch News.
Ecologists tracking the wolves via droppings and footprints told the BBC that their data confirms one of the females had remained in the Netherlands for six months continuously and can be considered "established." They are still collecting data on the second female. In addition, a male has been spotted in the area.
Because there are females and a male, the first Dutch wolf pack in more than a century and a half could be on the horizon.
"That is why the birth of young wolves is possible in May of this year," says ecologist Glenn Lelieveld of the group Meldpunt Wolven. "A pregnant belly is noticeable, so we will keep a close eye on them in the coming months."
Many people — from ecologists to farmers — are curious to see what impact the wolves will have. Some farmers worry the animals will prey on livestock, while others say the animals will bring balance to the natural order.
"The return of the wolves can rebalance natural processes," Roeland Vermeulen of Wolven in Nederland tells MNN. "Although we don't expect that the wolves have a direct influence on prey numbers, we do expect that prey species will change their behavior."
Vermeulen says that because of the wolves, some species will avoid certain areas, which consequently will no longer become overgrazed. They expect the wolves will also help keep certain species healthy by preying on sick and weak animals, he says.
"We have to relearn how to co-exist with wolves. Given modern insights and technology in [protecting livestock], namely sheep, we believe a durable wolf population in western Europe is very well possible," Vermeulen says. "As wolves are shy, mainly nocturnal animals, most people will hardly notice wolves are among us."