Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

26 July 2017 – 17 June 2017 saw the start of Germany’s first-ever wolf citizen science expedition, organised by Biosphere Expeditions in cooperation with the Wolfsbüro (wolf bureau) of the state environment ministry NLWKN. Participants from all over the world searched for wolf sign for a month. The results in terms of signs found, data gathered and media interest exceeded all expectations of the expedition’s organisers.

A total of 49 citizen scientists took part in the expedition from 17 June to 21 July 2017, supporting the state’s official wolf monitoring programme with four groups of one week each. Most of the participants came from Germany, its neighbouring countries and the UK. Some even came from as far away as North America, Singapore and Australia.

After two weeks of intensive training, citizen scientists went into the field in small groups of two to four persons to search for wolf signs. In total 1,100 km were covered on public footpaths and bridleways, which is where wolves also like to walk, patrol and mark their territories. All signs found were recorded following the strict scientific protocol of the state’s official wolf monitoring programme. Over the course of four weeks almost 80 wolf scats and as many other wolf signs again were found and passed onto the wolf bureau for further analysis. An expedition report in early 2018 will detail all findings and also where funds provided by the citizen science participants through their expedition contributions went.

Co-organiser of the expedition Peter Schütte says that “the data gathered by our citizen scientists are a valuable addition to official wolf monitoring efforts and a great way to show support for all the other wolf ambassadors working in our state.” His colleague Kenny Kenner adds that “we alone simply can’t cover large areas. I can just about manage to cover ‘my’ area and ‘my’ wolf pack within. So I am very grateful for the additional help that the expedition provided – in areas where we want to and should know more”.

Dr. Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions remarks that “in summary our citizen scientists help on two levels: by collecting valuable scientific data and through financing the project as a whole. Not even we expected the wealth of extra data our expeditioners collected. This shows how much citizen science can achieve in just four weeks and how much it is capable of adding to official wolf monitoring efforts. But of course this does not mean we want to replace or belittle those other efforts. On the contrary. It is only through working together that we will reach our goals. Because the more data we have, the easier it is to come to the right science-based conclusions and develop successful strategies to protect livestock and avoid conflict between wolves and humans. So we are really looking forward to the final results and to repeating the expedition in June/July 2018 again.”

The state’s wolf bureau agrees and also wants to work “cooperatively with partners such as Biosphere Expeditions and individuals who have an interest in the wolf, such as for example hunters, the state’s hunting association, forest- and landowners, shepherds, livestock owners, wolf ambassadors and others. The state of Lower Saxony is glad if people take an interest in the wolf and contribute their skills and time to monitoring efforts, as sound scientific data are the prerequisite for reducing conflict with this predator.”

Wolf ambassador Schütte adds that “if wolves are to have a future in Lower Saxony, then local people must be kept in the loop about their whereabouts and behaviour so that conflict can be reduced or avoided altogether. Our project contributes significantly towards this ultimate goal of wolves and humans living side by side in Germany.”

Here’s a collection of photos from the expedition:

Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

A few days ago our first Germany expedition came to an end. Peter and I packed up the research equipment, maps, tents and paperwork after the fourth team had left. Writing this, I am back at my desk. Before I say goodbye, I would like to share some results with you: During the fourth expedition week 234 km of forestry trails were surveyed, 48 km by bike. 25 potential wolf scats were collected. In total 49 Germany expeditioners covered 1,133 km of public forestry trails and paths! Peter will forward 78 approved and alleged wolf scats, 33 of them in ethanol, to the Wolfsbuero lab for further dietary and DNA analysis.

Twenty-five 10 x 10 km monitoring grid cells were surveyed, yielding 31 wolf tracks, 32 unclear scats, 5 carcasses and one livestock kill, as well as one possible wolf picture from one of the camera traps set up near base.

These numbers alone tell their own tale. We hope that these results will silence the critics and those from yesteryear still mistrusting citizen science projects.

It will take some more time until the final lab results will be available for writing up the final expedition report, envisaged to be out in early 2018, and we will of course keep everyone in the loop.

A big, big thank you goes first and foremost to all team members for their contribution and hard work. The project simply would not be possible without you!

We would also like to thank Theo, Baerbel, Kenny, Holger, Felix and Valeska for their time, support and sharing their knowledge. And last but not least, big thank-yous go to Jana and Jenny from the Wolfsbuero for supporting us on the ground and coping with buerocracy behind the scenes.

I think that we all have already achieved a lot together. “Keep up the good work” is a feedback comment I came across quite often during the wrap up. Thank you and I simply pass it on. I hope you’ll stay in touch and I look forward to meeting many of you again some time in the future.

All the best


Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

Today is our last day out in the field for the Germany expedition. Together with slot 4  time flies!

As usual, and after training, we headed out in small groups from Monday onwards and finding quite a few more scat samples.

Felix and his dog, trained to recognise wolf scat, accompanied the teams on three days. The overnighter team was successful again in the Luechow-Dannenberg area so that there is now only very little space left in Peter’s freezer for samples. More details on our findings, etc. will be in my next diary entry.

The weather has been good to us. No rain except yesterday night when there was a bit of a thunderstorm. Not much of a problem since we were busy with our two-day review until around ten in the evening.

Very soon after it became very quiet in the house 😉

Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

With three of four groups now over (thank you all groups so far), I thought I would give you an overview of the media coverage so far (see below), as well as some background story on how controversial the topic wolf is in Lower Saxony, and indeed the rest of Germany and the Continent.

Some of you will not be able to read the German coverage, so let me give you a trend. The national and international coverage is by and large accurate and positive, including, crucially, from one of the most reputable weekly news-magazines in Europe (Der Spiegel). By contrast, local coverage is often misleading and negative (with the notable exception of the Elbe-Jeetzel-Zeitung article), claiming we are a profit-driven travel company just trying to make quick buck from the wolf, leaving public paths to trespass on private property, questioning our science, etc.

We think the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, the local press are struggling and therefore depend on more sensationalist news to sell, so they love a controversy, even if there does not need to be one. Secondly, we believe that the Hunter’s Association of Lower Saxony first and foremost, who are the most outspoken against the expedition, often wield significant influence in their local communities, including editorial staff. Perhaps this is why blatantly fake news and borderline defamatory statements are given print space. For example, that you, our expeditioners, will be bored of walking along public paths after a couple of days and start trespassing on private property in search of wolf signs, or that wolf signs are unlikely to be found on paths, but are mostly hidden in inaccessible undergrowth. This sadly shows little understanding of how we work and indeed of how wolf biology works, which is surprising for hunters who often claim to be the only ones truly aware of animals and their habits.

Still, we have invited all parties, including the hunters, to enter into discussion with us based on mutual respect, courtesy, professionalism and facts (about the expedition and Biosphere Expeditions, as well as wolf biology). So far this offer has not been taken up by the hunters, who are so crucial to wolf survival after all. We hope they will come round eventually. And we hope to show them, through our work and conduct, that we are not a marauding horde of thrill-seeking tourists, contemptuous of the hunter’s efforts to gather wolf information and thrashing through the undergrowth in a desperate search to spot a wolf face-to-face. Instead you citizen scientists are a valuable addition to the official wolf monitoring programme, adding significant chunks of new data in a cooperative, inclusive and professional manner.

I hope the hunters and other people not understanding, or not wanting to understand, what we are about may eventually see this and I thank you for inching ever closer to the day on which we may see pigs fly 😉

Best wishes

Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

International coverage (in English) – Geographical Magazine (UK) – coming soon

National coverage (in German) – Der Spiegel, Wanderlust, NDR TVNDR (radio I), NDR (radio II)

Local coverage (in German) – Cellesche Zeitung, Elbe-Jeetzel-ZeitungHannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, Weser Kurier

Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

Another great expedition week is over. The scientific facts and figures of last week are: we surveyed 217 km of forestry trails on foot, collected 29 wolf scats, of which 14 will be submitted for DNA analysis. We also recorded seven more signs of wolf in ten different 10 x 10 km cells. These results alone have greatly exceeded our expectations, but we are still hoping for more, group 4!

During next week we will continue to survey specific areas of interest, all of which have been identified as areas where “something is going on”. Our hopes are that by the end of this year’s expedition our preliminary conclusions can be corroborated by more data to be found by group 4.

Group 3 ended with a lovely night around the campfire, a few shots of Heidegeist and Inge’s inspiring performance of how a wolf scat datasheet can be transformed into 10 Euro notes. Have a look at the pictures for more impressions of our week.

Thank you so much team 3 for coping more than well with both bad weather and poor tracking conditions, while never losing your motivation and high spirits. All of you have qualified as true expeditioners and researchers!

For Peter and I it was a great week in many more ways than one.

Team 4, I hope you have been inspired. See you tomorrow morning at Bremen airport!

Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

It was a late night review after dinner yesterday. Once everyone arrived back at Gut Sunder (the overnighter team returning from Kenny’s place in the rural area of Luechow-Danneberg, the rest of us from a place near Hamburg where we met shepard Holger looking after one of his heards guarded by three of his dogs), it took until dinner time to sort out findings, download tracks and finish up datasheets & pictures for the review of the last two days.

So much has happened in only a couple of days! Very proudly, his face a broad grin, our expedition scientist Peter presented the “wolf highway track”. Within a distance of not even 3 km he and Julia collected 11 wolf scat samples of various sizes and ages (ranging from small to XXL, and fresh to old). Running out of gloves and plastic bags for collection was a first on this expedition. Congratulations! And, Peter, you have finally made up for not finding anything since the expedition started! 😉

I guess I should mention that the overnighter team was much luckier with the weather than the rest of us was. They had a break from the rain at least during the survey on Wednesday. Everyone else endured another day of rain and rain and more rain and wet shoes and feet and ­ just everything wet!

During the review we also found out that wus Anja booked a last minute room at Kenny’s hotel when she found out that there was availability. We need to talk 😉

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Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

We continued our field work with team three on Sunday after the training sessions and returned to the most promising area in the rural district of Celle on Monday. Four teams spread out for an intensive survey and found and collected thirteen scat samples. On Tuesday one of our teams consisting of Fran, Verena and wolf ambassador in training Baerbel had help from Valeska and her dogs. They are trained to find wolf tracks & scats and use their amazing sense of smell to do so. As a result four more scats in the area were found and collected, two of which were very fresh and quite small. Considering all wolf signs we found so far, there is a chance that a pack with puppies is around. This will need more investigative work to prove convincingly.

Peter, Anja, Michael & Julia spent last night in a tent within the rural area of Luechow-Danneberg. We hope they didn’t suffer too much from the rain, of which there has been a lot over the last few days. This is unlikely to change before the end of the week.

Another incident offered us the chance to experience another side of living with wolves. When wolf ambassador Theo was called yesterday morning to investigate a sheep that was allegedly killed by wolves, Anne, Fran, Ben, Inge, Moni, Martin, Stefan & Verena and I were able to assist with investigations at the farm. Besides very wolf-like signs of the kill we found & recorded wolf tracks around the fenced area.

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Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

The second expedition week is over, everyone left NABU Gut Sunder on Friday. Once again, Peter summarized the findings of the week before we left: 12 wolf scat samples sit deep frozen in his fridge by now, thereof 6 fresh samples are also kept in Ehtanol for DNA analysis. For the first time one of the teams spotted, measured and recorded a wolf track of more than 100m of direct register trot (complying with the official wolf monitoring criteria). The finding has cost Peter a crate of beer… 🙂 Overall the survey teams recorded twelve more tracks and nine more scats that couldn’t be classified as wolf signs without a doubt. All findings, datasheets and documentation pictures will be handed over to the Wolfsbuero after the expedition for approval. Thirteen different 10 x 10 km cells were visited in four and a half survey days and the total distance covered on foot and by bike is 322.45 km.

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Thank you very much, team 2! Once more we were a great bunch of people from all over the world learning from each other & working together towards a common goal. Some of you came over for a week from places as far as India & Singapore, others kindly provided their private vehicles for transport. And, of course, all of you contributed a lot to the research by covering hundreds of kilometres on foot and by bike surveying and collecting samples. I hope the week out there around bogs and in the forest was great fun.

Writing this I am at my desk back at home where I will spend the next four days. I hope you’ve all had a safe journey back home, too, or enjoy your onwards travelling. I hope to see some of you again some time. Keep in touch!


Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

Our week is packed with activities from walking to biking to overnight surveys. It has been raining a lot on the training days but from our fist full survey day on the weather is mostly dry & sunny. We’ve been intensively monitoring the rural district of Celle where wolf scat was already found during the first week. Christine, Lalitha, Vibeke and Malika sampled four more scats proving the presence of wolf in this area. Keep your fingers crossed that any of the two teams consisting of Christine, Vibeke, Dan & John (on bikes) and Peter & Martyn (on foot) out there again today will bring some scat fresh enough for DNA analysis.

The overnighter team went far up to the North-East monitoring ‘wolf terrain’ in the rural area of Lüchow-Dannenberg. It is known that two wolf packs live within that area but much more information is needed for monitoring movements of individuals an the ‘family’ status. After two intensive days of survey walks, a night in a tent on a campsite and a 2 hour car journey Kate, Graham, John and Malika presented a plastic box filled with fresh wolf scat samples yesterday evening at the daily review. When our scientist Peter opened the box he (and everyone else in the room) immediately approved our findings – the smell of wolf shit is beyond words! 😉







Update from our monitoring expedition studying wolves in Lower Saxony, Germany

Everyone on slot 2 has arrived safely. Another international team, including participants from India, Singapore, the UK and Germany, assembled in Bremen on Saturday morning. Today we are in full training mode and everyone is already looking forward to going out into the field in the afternoon.

More on how the surveys are going later in the week …


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