UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN WORLD OF WOLVES

The wolf and its main prey – wild ungulates – are among our primary interests. Up to now, very little has been known about the mysterious life of the Carpathian wolf. Slovak research and educational institutions were not interested in a deeper understanding of this animal for decades. For the wolf to remain in an environment affected by human activities, it is necessary to know more about its behavior and ecology. Wolves in Slovakia are under immense pressure from hunting and even poaching every year. Endless debate continues about the true numbers of this predator, as population estimates provided by hunters or non-governmental organizations are contradictory and unreliable.

Since the foundation of CWS we have gathered all kinds of information about Slovak wolves. We continue to further knowledge of wolf behavior in relation to both domestic and wild ungulates, because this relationship is a key issue for coexistence with humans. The killing of wild ungulates by predators in Slovakia is considered as damage of hunters‘ property. This damage is not subject to compensation, even though it is reported in the financial statements of the National Hunting Statistics. Our aim is to point out that wolf predation on wild ungulates cannot beand viewed as damage of human properties because it is a natural process.

The area where we work encompasses the mountains of central Slovakia, primarily Poľana, the Veporské Mountains, the Low Tatras, and the Muráň Plateau. Of particular interest to us are the conditions under which wolves attack red deer (Cervus elaphus hippelaphus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra tatrica), domestic sheep (Ovis aries) and cattle. Of high interest too are defensive responses of these prey species, termed antipredator behavior, which are relatively unstudied to date. We have studied wolf feeding habits and for the first time in the Carpathians applied VHF telemetry to monitor their movements. The findings from these studies were summarized in two articles “Home ranges of two wolves packs“ (2004) and "Feeding ecology of wolves in the Slovak Carpathians" (2002). To increase public awareness about the role of wolves in the wild, we publish booklet, present at meetings, conferences, and seminars our recent findings about wolves. For example, we demonstrated that wolf predation plays an irreplaceable role among wild populations of ungulates. It was shown that wolf predation in Slovakia during the 1990s eliminated a highly infectious illness spread by wild boars called swine fever disease (Pestis suum). Another example of the cascade effects of wolf predation was documented in their role in reducing forest regeneration damage caused by deer.

 

Young wolves in the mountains Poľana mountains. © Slavomír Finďo Wolf family in early August. © Slavomír Finďo

 

 

This sequence of images captures the movements of a curious wolf female. © Slavomír Finďo This sequence of images captures the movements of a curious wolf female. © Slavomír Finďo

 

 

This sequence of images captures the movements of a curious wolf female. © Slavomír Finďo This sequence of images captures the movements of a curious wolf female. © Slavomír Finďo

 

 

This sequence of images captures the movements of a curious wolf female. © Slavomír Finďo

 

 

One of the positive effects of wolves on ecosystem processes is keeping ungulate populations at bay and managing their distribution. As a result of this, the damage to forest regeneration caused by wild herbivores that browse young shoots of seedlings of forest trees can be reduced. This was confirmed by the National Forest Inventory in 2004, in which a network of 4 x 4 km plots was inspected for deer damage. Outside the wolf range the damage occurred to a greater number of plots and was more severe. © Šebeň, Finďo 2011

 

 

VFH and GPS telemetry facilitated studying the wolf - red deer relationships. © Slavomír Finďo, Milan Rejko VFH and GPS telemetry facilitated studying the wolf - red deer relationships. © Slavomír Finďo, Milan Rejko

 

Chamois population in the Low Tatras is under high predation pressure from large predators, eagles, ravens and foxes. Research on the impact of predation on the chamois was conducted in collaboration with Biosphere Expeditions. © Slavomír Finďo

 

 

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