Wolves are not only feared in mythology, farmers also see them as killing machines that prey on their livestock. Consequently, the European grey wolf has been intensely persecuted across Europe in the past, and is now extinct in many European countries. However, according to recent data, the wolf population is on the rise after legal protection of the species and restoration of its habitats. Researchers are now investigating how humans and wolves can coexist.
Understanding the feeding habits of wolves is crucial in protecting wolf populations, while reducing their predatory impact on domestic animals such as sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. This is especially important where wolves live in human-dominated landscapes, such as southern Europe. In such areas of high human activity such as livestock-raising, wolves have come to rely heavily on livestock and human refuse.
In the late 1930s, due to extensive hunting and habitat deterioration, the grey wolf became extinct in southern Greece (Peloponnesus). Furthermore, its distribution in central Greece shrank considerably following decades of persecution, bounty hunting and legal use of poison baits. During the 1980s and 1990s, wolves received greater protection due to a change in the law, and populations grew, particularly in southern and central Greece.
The article “Wolf diet and livestock selection in central Greece” by Maria Petridou and Yorgos Iliopoulos et al., published in De Gruyter’s journal Mammalia is an analysis of the feeding habits of wolves in Central Greece. The authors show that understanding the animals’ eating habits is essential for designing and implementing basic management processes for the species.
Using standard laboratory procedures, the researchers analysed scat samples from agricultural, forest and human-dominated areas in the municipality of Domokos. Over a two-year period, the scientists assessed diet composition and estimated the selection of prey consumed by the wolves.
The team of biologists, led by Yorgos Iliopoulos and Maria Petridou, established that domestic prey composed the bulk of the wolves’ diet in that particular study area, with goat being the preferred choice. Sheep and cattle ranked behind.
Although goats were not the most available livestock animal, the researchers conclude that the wolves’ preference for goat is most likely associated with its grazing behaviour and its easy accessibility. Their tendency to graze in a scattered manner and in more remote areas make them easy targets for wolves and this, unsurprisingly, leads to conflict between humans and wolves.
In order to facilitate wolf-human coexistence in Greece, substantial improvement of husbandry practices, together with the successful restoration of wild ungulate populations, must be implemented. “These two goals form a necessary prerequisite to ensure independence of wolves from human related food sources, such as livestock and garbage, and to resolve serious conflicts with rural communities,” said study author Maria Petridou.
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