A dead wolf found last week near Luttelgeest in the center of the Netherlands made big headlines. The animal was apparently hit by a car and was found alongside a road.
But was it a true wild wolf reappearing for the first time in over a century: or a hoax?
Wolves have been long gone from the Netherlands. Wolves were hunted to extinction in NW Europe some 150 years ago. The last wolf shot in the Netherlands was in 1881. The last non-21st century wolf sighting, although not confirmed, was in 1897.
Wolves are coming back however. They are taking back Europe coming from the east, with a quickly growing population in Germany. Photographically confirmed sightings in 2011 placed a wolf only 15 km from the Dutch border. In 2011 too, there were two unconfirmed sightings, one with blurry photographs, in the east-central Netherlands (news items here and here, in Dutch). And now there is that dead wolf lying alongside a country road). After autopsy experts at the Dutch National Museum of Natural History declared it was almost certainly a wolf.
But the Faunal Agency of Flevopolder thinks it is a hoax (source, in Dutch: here). They suggest the animal was killed in Germany and brought to the Netherlands as a hoax, “probably by eastern Europeans working on farms in the region’. They cite a number of arguments:
- A similar prank was pulled a few years ago with a dead seal;
- the Wolf had a dead beaver in its stomach, and “beavers do not occur in the area”;
- “it is unlikely that a wolf would appear in an inhabited area”;
- “the animal was alone instead of being part of a pack”;
- “why did the person who hit it not come forward?”
Yet other experts, notably those of the Dutch National Museum of Natural History, were quick to point out that many of the arguments above are flawed or flat-out wrong (source, in Dutch).
- Beavers actually do live very close (within 25 km) to the area where the wolf carcass was found, and wolves are know to cover large distances on one night;
- Wolves have been confirmed in similar habitats in Germany (and the location where the wolf was found is quite rural);
- Especially in this time of the year, wolves sometimes leave the pack and scout for new territory. They are know to cover distances of hundreds of kilometers on such trips (moreover, we do not actually know whether this wolf was alone. One generally doesn’t run ones car over a complete pack)
- Big animals (deer, badgers, swine) are hit by cars daily in the Netherlands and very few drivers report it. Moreover, the driver might be afraid to come forward after all the media attention (with the general tone: “first wolf in over a century and it is immediately run over by a car”).
So: was this a true wild wolf, or a hoax? The jury is still out….
While it can certainly have been a hoax, it equally could be a true wild wolf. Over the past years, wolves have come very close to the borders of our small country already.
** UPDATE 21/08/2013**
DNA from the wolf shows it is a wolf and matches DNA of Carpathian wolves, i.e. s-Poland, Chzechia wolves. So it travelled 900 km, which is however not unheard of for wolves.
Fresh wolf droppings have been found in the area where the dead wolf was found, so it looks like it is not a hoax: this truely was a life wolf run over by a car.