When a forester saw a wolf in the Oberlausitz Military Training Area in the eastern German state of Saxony in the 1990s, he could hardly believe his eyes. The ancestor of the domestic dog had been considered extinct in Germany for some 200 years. In the year 2000, however, wildlife biologists presented proof: Canis lupus was back, an immigrant from Poland. Wolf cubs were born near the Polish border in the Muskauer Heide region. Since then the shy beasts of prey that are not dangerous to humans have been spreading. There are currently an estimated 20 packs of wolves in Germany. Wild cats had also been believed extinct in southern Germany since 1912, until animals that were run over by cars near Kaiserstuhl in 2006 and 2007 were positively identified as wild cats. Now, according to estimates, between 3,000 and 6,000 of these animals are living in Germany.
While the wolf and the wild cat were able to return to their former home themselves, in the case of the lynx and European bison this was only possible with human help. The last German lynx was reported to have died in the Bavarian Alps in 1850. Thanks to recent resettlement programmes, however, the animals can now be found in the Bavarian Forest, in the Harz Mountains, in the Black Forest, in the Palatinate Forest and in the Eifel mountain range. A group of Europe’s largest land mammals is also again living in Germany: in April 2013 a herd of European bison was released into the wild in the Rothaar Mountains in North Rhine-Westphalia. Shortly afterwards, the animals, which are also known as wisents, were expecting new offspring. Cows in the herd eventually gave birth to the first wild bison in Germany in approximately 400 years.
The reactions to these wild returnees are mainly positive. Some people, however, regard the wolf with reservations, because it has the negative image of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale and because the predator occasionally kills sheep. As a result, nature conservationists have pledged to educate the public and give farmers and shepherds tips on wolf prevention. People are again having to learn to live with wild beasts of prey in their immediate vicinity.