A comprehensive interdisciplinary four year LIFE+ project on wolves in Slovenia has been formally completed on Dec. 31st 2013. The project has provided new knowledge and experiences in the field of wolf conservation and management. Today we know much more about the wolf, its habitat and its relation to other species and humans than ever before. The project brought together a large number of Slovenian and foreign wolf experts and managers and other indispensable participants – hunters, livestock breeders, volunteers and journalists.
The survival of wolves in Slovenia depends on a number of factors. Within the SloWolf project, we’ve attempted to study those factors and to use the acquired knowledge to the improve conservation status and management of this charismatic species. During the project, seven wolves (four males and three females) were equipped with GPS-telemetry collars. One wolf is still being studied in this way in the western part of Kočevska (wolf pack Gotenica). Information about wolves was also collected through annual snow tracking actions. During snow tracking operations local hunters together with other volunteers collected information on how wolves use space, how big their packs are as well as collecting non-invasive samples for genetic analysis (scats, urine and saliva). Genetic samples were collected throughout the year, in yannual cycles based on the biology of wolves. The analysis of those samples resulted in a first precise and objective estimate of the wolf population size in Slovenia. Over the three years of population size monitoring, it remained stable and practically did not change even though the documented wolf mortality was relatively high. Around 46 wolves (between 42 and 50) in 8 to 11 wolf packs lived in Slovenia in each year of the project’s duration. Due to a high population turnover (births, mortalities, immigrations, emigrations) the number of wolves changed considerably within each year (on average between 33 and 46 individuals). Four packs had considerable parts of their territories in Croatia, thus they cannot be considered as completely Slovenian for management purposes. After correcting for these border packs it was estimated that the highest yearly number of wolves in Slovenia was around 39 individuals (between 34 and 43).
Besides population monitoring, many other factors need to be taken into account for successful conservation. The survival of wolves is threatened by negative public attitudes, primarily as a consequence of damages that wolves cause to livestock and other domestic animals. Public attitudes are also affected by prejudices about wolves and fear of wolves, which originate in a poor understanding of the species biology. Our study of public attitudes showed that most of the inhabitants of the wolf areas support wolf conservation and wish for better coexistence. At the same time, many are still afraid of wolves. The truth is that wolves are not dangerous for humans and in most cases will avoid us. A rabid wolf would represent a deviation from normal behavior but rabies in wolves has not yet been documented in Slovenia.
Wolves in Slovenia mainly feed on their natural prey – red deer, roe deer, wild boar and other smaller mammals. These wildlife species are also managed as game species. During the project a set of recommendations have been prepared for the management of large game species, which take into account the presence of wolves – their needs and impacts on the prey species. These recommendations were already implemented in the annual wildlife management plans for 2013.
Damages caused by wolves present one of the biggest challenges for sustainable wolf population management in Slovenia and elsewhere in Europe and the world. Within the best practice demonstration action high electric fences and sheep guarding dogs were donated to eight sheep farmers with flocks of 30-800 sheep and documented wolf attacks in the past. Already in the first two years of their use, there was a decrease in paid compensations due to wolf attacks to those farmers by nearly 200,000€, the amount almost as high as the Slovenian contribution to co-funding the whole project. The key to success was the correct and consistent use of the protective measures.
One of the important achievements of the project was the preparation of the first action plan for the conservation of wolves in Slovenia. The action plan was prepared by 57 participants from 21 different governmental and non-governmental organizations. The Slovenian government officially accepted the action plan in February 2013. At the end of the project this plan is being revised to further include the knowledge and experiences acquired during the implementation of the project. The action plan will ensure that the activities initiated in the project will be carried out also after its end, thus improving wolf population management and its coexistence with people on a long-term basis.
For further information check out;
- The project web page www.volkovi.si,
- The project Facebook page (Projekt SloWolf),
- Report your observations from the field to email@example.com or
- register them on portal.volkovi.si.
Or contact Aleksandra Majić Skrbinšek on firstname.lastname@example.org
A 30 minute video about the project can also be viewed online http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW9kQsHbyMU