A sighting of a wild wolf on Belgian soil has been recorded for the first time in at least 100 years.
Naya, who will turn two in May, was given a collar with a tracking device when she was six months old by the Technical University of Dresden, but it was only in October last year that she left her parental pack in rural Lübtheener Heide, between Hamburg and Berlin, to push the boundaries for wolf-kind and strike out across Germany, into the Netherlands and, finally, across the border to Belgium on 3 January.
She has seemingly settled in a large military area near the town of Leopoldsburg, about 15 miles (25km) from the Dutch border, in Flemish Belgium, said Hugh Jansman, a researcher from the Wageningen University and research centre, who has been following Naya’s westward trek across hundreds of miles of European landscape.
But Naya’s arrival is only the latest sign of the swift repopulation of Europe by the predator. Last year scientists revealed evidence that a breeding pack of wolves had settled in west Jutland in Denmark – the first in the country for 200 years.
Belgian was in fact the only country in continental Europe to have not been visited by a wolf.
“We are at the front of the migratory wave of wolves,” Jansman said. “In 2000 the first wolf pack with cubs was in eastern Germany. Currently there are 74 cub packs with cubs in eastern Germany. And in Lower Saxony, closest to the Dutch border, in 2012 there was only one settled female but currently there are 14 packs of cubs.
“Agricultural areas are being abandoned by people so they are re-wilding again, leaving lots of space for carnivores. The countryside is being abandoned by young people who are moving to the cities.
“This increase in wolves numbers and distribution area is going quite rapidly. So it is not a matter of if wolves are coming to the Netherlands, and probably Belgium, but how fast. We have seen in recent weeks how fast they can go.”
Though wolves once roamed much of Europe, populations dwindled after over-hunting, industrialisation and urbanisation.
Understandably, this also comes from humans fears of wolves, much of which originating from myths and folklore slandering the predatory species.
But in 1979, the Bern Convention decided that wolves are actually a protected species fundamental to “our natural European heritage”.
Now, wolf populations are on the up, and the International Wolf Center estimate that there are now 13,000 in Europe.
The data from Naya’s transmitter suggests she has been covering between 30km and 70km a night, traversing swamplands and forests as she has sought a home in which to establish her own pack, with reports in the Netherlands of dead sheep neatly tallying with her movements.
“Some wolves just stay in their area, some others, about 20%, go on a trek and walk hundreds of kilometres and settle down,” Jansman said. “Naya is in the blue ocean, as there is so much free habitat for her.
“She passed through four or five natural parks in the Netherlands but she left them all after one or two days showing that she was looking for something else.
“This is the first place where she found a big military area. It could be the smell of humans is much less in a military area. It’s a prime reason to settle down.”
“I followed the places where she stayed,” Jansman added. “We found leftover roe deer and hares, so she has been eating wild animals as well, as expected. And one thing we can tell is that she has totally avoided humans, and anything to do with humans.”