This land is your land, this land is my land: Can we coexist with wolves and kin?

Wolves are part of life in Thompson, Manitoba.Residents of the city of Thompson in Manitoba, Canada, have largely accepted the presence of wolves, as artwork on a Thompson building shows. (Photograph: Voelker Beckmann)

For the first time in history, the majority of humans lives in urbanized areas; more than three billion people reside in cities and suburbs around the world. As we’re moving into town, wild canids — wolves and coyotes, foxes and jackals — are right behind us. Or we’re behind them, sometimes claiming turf they’d already staked out.

In Moscow, feral dogs ride the subways, while halfway around the globe in Madison, Wisconsin, red foxes tunnel under garage floors to dig dens. Red foxes in Fairfax, Virginia, go them one better, stealing newspapers from suburban front porches, perhaps to line their domiciles, or, as one homeowner quipped, to read up on prime real estate in the neighborhood.

Urban canids may provide endless “can you believe?” tales, but they’re also the subjects of growing scientific interest, so much so that researchers have coined a term for these city- and suburb-dwelling carnivores: synanthropes.

Red fox antics in Madison, Wisconsin.An onlooker watches the antics of red foxes at a den in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. (Photograph: Arti Wulandari)

Life in the big city

Synanthropes demonstrate how quickly wild species can adapt to the pressures of living in unnatural habitats, says wildlife biologist David Drake, director of the Urban Canid Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Beyond adapting, synanthropes are evolving. Some researchers believe that urban areas are accelerating evolution. Changes that would usually take centuries are happening in decades. For example, urban red foxes in Israel have higher survival rates and smaller home ranges than their country cousins.

In fact, our presence may have shortened the distance canids and other mammals roam by two-thirds, according to one study. In areas with large human “footprints” – places we’ve heavily influenced — the mammals’ maximum range averaged about 4.3 miles. In low-footprint areas, it was 13.7 miles.

Some species fare better than others in our shadow. Medium-sized canids such as coyotes and red foxes, also called mesopredators, are often “urban adapters.” Much of their success stems from their diets; they’re far from picky eaters. They trot along carrying everything from discarded fast-food wrappers to fisheries by-catch that washes ashore. The elimination of large predators, such as wolves, from cities has provided urban adapters with abundant food sources and given them free rein.

When populations of apex predators like wolves decrease, mesopredators such as red foxes and coyotes often increase.

“Europe is currently experiencing a dramatic expansion of a new mesopredator, the golden jackal, across the continent,” says ecologist Miha Krofel of the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. The golden jackal is a native European species. For millennia, however, its range was confined to Europe’s southern fringes. Now it’s increasingly colonizing new areas, with reports of its arrival in the Netherlands, Denmark and Estonia.

The likely reason: wolves. Or more precisely, says Krofel, the lack of them. Gray wolves once were – and in many places, still are – persecuted by humans. At one time, wolves existed throughout Eurasia, but little by little were driven into remote areas, opening the way for species like golden jackals.

Wolf trotting near dirt pile in Isanti, Minnesota.Wolf approaching: Dirt piles in Isanti, Minnesota, attract local wildlife. Residents say wolves sit atop the piles for better views of the landscape. (Photograph: Larry Hogie)

Wolves once again at the door

The situation may be changing again. Protection of gray wolves is increasing their numbers in parts of Europe and North America. Wolves frequent landfills in Israel, Italy, Romania and Canada. In Canada, they follow dump trucks carrying trash, timing their appearances to that of the trucks.

In France, wolves were eradicated by the 1930s; now they’re creeping back. Today some 360 are in the country. The French government has announced a plan to allow 500 wolves nationwide by 2023. Farmers can apply for funding to protect sheep and other livestock wolves might hunt, but compensation is contingent on measures like electric fences being installed.

“Biologically, wolves can and will live almost anyplace people will tolerate them, and that will vary with local culture and politics,” writes David Mech of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and the University of Minnesota in a 2017 paper in the journal Biological Conservation.

Mech wasn’t expecting wolves to stake out territory almost in the backyard of his University of Minnesota-Twin Cities office. But that’s exactly what happened.

In the spring of 2015, gray wolves showed up near Isanti, Minnesota, 45 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. According to Mech, it’s the farthest south in the state a pack has been seen in recent history. The wolves have thrived on the area’s abundant deer.

Isanti resident Larry Hogie digs soil from ponds on his property, which he forms into mounds of dirt for sale to gardeners and horticulture centers. One day Hogie glanced at the edge of woods near his home…and a gray wolf looked back. Since then, he’s spotted wolves four or five times. “But I don’t think many of the wolves are around any longer,” Hogie says.

Mech believes there may be one or two left. He and University of Minnesota colleagues hope to study them. “We’d like to find out if wolves could exist on a long-term basis so close to the Twin Cities,” he says. Adds Hogie, “For that to happen, we need to learn how to live in peace with predators.”

The village of Slettas is home to people and wolves.Villagers in Slettas, Norway, share their territory with wolves. (Photograph: Trond Løvmo)

Tracks in the snow

The residents of Slettas, Norway, are trying to do just that, says biologist Barbara Zimmerman of the Scandinavian Wolf Research Project.

Since 2011, a wolf pack has shared its territory with Slettas villagers, sometimes passing by their houses. Zimmerman and colleagues discovered that the wolves give wide berth to homes during the daytime, but come closer at night — at certain times of the year. The reason? The wolves’ moose prey. In winter months when snow piles up, moose find vegetation to nibble on in open areas around houses.

“In March when the snow is at its deepest, the wolves spend one-third of their time near houses, despite the fact that this zone makes up only 18 percent of their overall territory,” says Zimmerman. “Eighty-six percent of moose killed by the wolves during one month, March, have been within 500 meters [550 yards] of houses, compared to zero to 40 percent the rest of the year.”

Knowing that it’s not people per se, but the movements of moose that are bringing in wolves “may help villagers coexist with them,” says Zimmerman. “This pack has been there a long time, and its leaders are elderly now. The female is 11 years old, and the male, 8 years old,” the equivalents of human grandparents.

The Slettas pack, however, is on a Norwegian hit list of wolves to be shot in early 2019. “Norway has set a limit on how many wolves are allowed in the country at one time,” Zimmerman says. “By this standard, there are now ‘too many’ wolves, and the Slettas pack is scheduled to be taken out.” But when a pack is removed from its territory, new wolves almost immediately move in, Zimmerman and other scientists found.

The Slettas villagers have become tolerant of the wolves, believes Zimmerman. “Otherwise,” she says, “they would have done something about them long ago.”

Torbjorn Lange, deputy director general of the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment’s Section for the Management of Species, says that “a final decision has not yet been made as regards the future of the Slettas pack. The regional authorities decided that the pack should be culled. The decision has, however, been appealed by numerous organizations.”

The final order, Lange says, will be given by his agency, the Ministry of Climate and Environment. “It is expected that the decision will be ready in advance of the hunting period that starts on the 1st of January,” he says.

Is there a way out? Humans and predators can successfully share the landscape, researchers maintain. In areas where wolves and other carnivores might prey on livestock, for example, attempts to reduce the threat, such as installing electric fences and enlisting the help of livestock-guarding dogs, can facilitate a cease-fire. In the case of the Slettas pack, “villagers rarely if ever see the wolves,” says Zimmerman. “The only marks of their passage are tracks in the snow.”

Golden jackal at trash dump in Serbia.In Serbia, golden jackals each year remove tons of animal waste and millions of rodents that are crop pests.
(Photograph: Miha Krofel)

Symbiotic urban canids?

Can there be symbiotic canids? Yes, say some biologists.

Waste management is a challenge around the world, including in Europe. Dusko Cirovic of the University of Belgrade and colleagues discovered a solution almost in front of their eyes: wild canids in the neighborhood. As they reported in a 2016 paper in Biological Conservation, golden jackals are serving as unpaid trash collectors.

The researchers estimate that in Serbia alone, golden jackals annually cart off more than 3,700 tons of animal waste and 13.2 million rodents that are crop pests. The biologists found that the monetary value of the jackals’ waste removal is greater than half a million euros per year.

The results, says Cirovic, “show that these carnivores are of great value to human communities.”

Can we coexist with wolves and their kin? We already are.

Wolves in Minnesota have made their way south to Isanti.Wolves have been glimpsed near Isanti, Minnesota, not far, as the wolf roams, from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Photograph: Larry Hogie)

Portions of this article appeared in International Wolf magazine.

Originally posted 2018-10-27 06:05:58.

Mantener intactos los carnívoros, la conectividad y la cultura en la Moskitia de Mesoamérica

Por John Polisar

A principios del 2017, participé en un estudio ecológico dirigido por Conservation International para evaluar los atributos biológicos del sitio arqueológico en Honduras conocido como Ciudad Blanca, o la Ciudad Perdida del Dios Mono. El área era tan remota que nos transportaron en helicóptero. Caminamos a través de ríos y cumbres montañosas y, de este modo, obtuvimos la mayor cantidad de información posible, luego dejamos las cámaras trampa instaladas en el área para que las retiraran en helicóptero seis meses después.

Le dije al equipo que había visto rastros de pecaríes de labios blancos debajo del denso camino del sotobosque río abajo. Sabiendo que este animal parecido a un cerdo, diseminado ampliamente en el pasado, actualmente se ha erradicado en un 87 por ciento de su área de distribución original en América Central, el equipo expresó dudas sobre que estuvieran allí. Seis meses después, las imágenes de las cámaras trampa mostraban manadas marchando a través de arroyos y senderos, casi en todas partes.


Tales avistamientos en Mesoamérica son bastante poco frecuentes. La aparición de este animal en este sitio, que no había sido visitado por seres humanos durante 500 años, señala a Ciudad Blanca como una joya. Pero no permanecerá así sin esfuerzos previsores de conservación a gran escala.

Honduras ha rebautizado el sitio como la “Ciudad Perdida del Jaguar” basada en las antiguas esculturas de jaguares encontradas por los arqueólogos, así como también la presencia de jaguares vivos registrados por las cámaras trampa este año. Se encuentra en el corazón del Corredor Biológico Mesoamericano de Honduras y Nicaragua, también conocido como el Corredor Forestal de Moskitia, uno de los cinco bloques forestales más grandes que quedan en América Central.


Las escarpadas crestas de esta región aún albergan especies silvestres en peligro a nivel regional, como el gran guacamayo verde, y proporcionan un hábitat invernal esencial para muchas especies de aves migratorias. La mayoría de los valles están ocupados por los grupos indígenas Miskito, Mayangna, Pech y Tawahka. Desafortunadamente, al menos el 30 por ciento de la cobertura forestal en Moskitia se perdió entre el 2000 y el 2015, principalmente debido a las operaciones ganaderas que convirtieron el bosque primario en pastura.

Sin embargo, los jaguares y los pecaríes de labios blancos continúan existiendo según los estudios de las cámaras trampa realizados por WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) en la Reserva de la Biosfera Bosawás de Nicaragua durante la última década, y ahora se verificaron durante la expedición al sitio de Ciudad Perdida.

Para mantener sus poblaciones en desarrollo, los conservacionistas, los administradores de parques y los gobiernos deben mantener grandes bloques de bosques y mantenerlos conectados.


Un esfuerzo reciente para evaluar el estado de la Moskitia involucró a un grupo de estudiantes de posgrado aventureros de la Environmental Protection Clinic de la Universidad de Yale, quienes se unieron en mi viaje por el río Coco en Nicaragua y el río Patuca en Honduras. Uno de los principales objetivos era “realizar una observación directa” de los rápidos cambios que ocurren en la frontera más salvaje de Mesoamérica, y explorar cómo se puede mantener intacto el bosque compartido que atravieza las fronteras nacionales.

Nuestro viaje de investigación incluyó conversaciones con rancheros y líderes indígenas, reuniones en centros comunitarios remotos y debates con el personal de la agencia de conservación principal. Los participantes en ambos países se mostraron muy interesados en la conservación y conectividad de los bosques y la vida silvestre (hábitat ininterrumpido distribuido en un paisaje determinado, que cruza a menudo las fronteras nacionales). Sin embargo, las últimas posibilidades para conectar las zonas silvestres centrales en los dos países cada vez son menos.


Un avance clave en el estudio fue la identificación de cuatro bandas estrechas (“puntos de atasco”) que son cruciales para mantener la conectividad entre las zonas centrales.

Una gran amenaza para los bosques en esta región es la expansión descontrolada de la ganadería, que ha convertido el bosque en pastura a lo largo de las áreas protegidas del río Coco. Los ranchos en Honduras utilizan el rio para llevar el ganado a los mataderos. Más recientemente, se construyó una carretera en el Parque Nacional Patuca de Honduras para transportar ganado a través de las montañas hasta el río Patuca y de allí a los mataderos.


Revertir estas pérdidas recientes y cada vez más extendidas parece ser un desafío abrumador. Las medidas tomadas ahora pueden detener la marea, mantener los bosques intactos y proteger el bosque que rodea la Ciudad Perdida. Lo que es importante recordar es que las soluciones de conservación pueden ser económicamente productivas, y los sitios arqueológicos tienen un enorme potencial turístico. Hay ejemplos de sistemas de sombra del cacao que mezclan maderas duras, plátanos y cacao en el valle del río Patuca en Honduras, lugares que los pecaríes y los jaguares pueden llamar hogar.

El trabajo para salvaguardar Moskitia ya ha comenzado. Con el apoyo de la Fundación Darwin y American Bird Conservancy, llevamos adelante proyectos piloto que mezclan bosques y pastos en ambos países. Una posible solución para proteger los bosques sería requerir un 50 por ciento de cobertura forestal y prohibir la caza de vida silvestre para cualquier operación ganadera ubicada dentro de uno de los puntos de atasco.


La Ciudad Perdida representa lo mejor de las tierras altas de Moskitia, un ecosistema forestal diverso lleno de especies icónicas. Salvar estas maravillas naturales restantes dependerá de desacelerar, y finalmente detener, la marea de deforestación e implementar soluciones de conservación que protejan las conexiones vitales para los jaguares y los pecaríes, y los bosques que ellos habitan.

John Polisar
es el coordinador de jaguares para WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Originally posted 2018-07-22 02:34:27.


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