Germany : Farewell & results overview

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

Thursday was our last day of field monitoring. For a final time our intrepid wolf volunteers put on their hiking boots and scanned the trails, adding more data to our already sizeable database. After the hot temperatures, the night brought lots of rain and with it much cooler temperatures.

Friday morning, we said goodbye to our third group. We thank also this great team for their effort and enthusiasm in contributing to citizen science and wolf conservation. They hiked no less than 218 km in hot weather and managed to find a total of 38 scats.

Finding scats, especially the fresh ones, remains a task that requires a lot of patience as you need to be in the right place at the right time. The wolves occupy very large territories and are rarely observed, but somehow, we all experienced their presence while doing this work.

After a 2-year Covid break, it was truly rewarding to run this 4th edition of the Biosphere Wolf Expedition in Lower Saxony again in 2022 with a total of 24 expeditioners from 7 different countries for 3 weeks. The final numbers of all groups sum up a truly impressive effort: all teams covered 837 km in nine wolf territories during which a total of 190 wolf scats were sampled. 132 samples were frozen for dietary analyses and 15 samples will be send to the lab for DNA analysis. We also recorded one wolf sighting during group 1 and recorded a 300+ meter track of an adult wolf with (probably) two pups.

During the Covid pandemic, wolf monitoring went through a data depression, so the new and sizeable set of data collected by our wolf expedition will be crucial for an up to date picture of current wolf presence in the study area. Expedition data have just been entered into the German wolf monitoring database by our expedition scientists. Biosphere Expeditions’ contribution from 2017 to today now exceeds 650 data entries, underlining the importance of citizen science for wolf monitoring and conservation.

What makes this expedition truly unique is the variety of wolf stakeholders we interacted with: inspiring wolf ambassadors, the committed Wolfsbüro team, beautiful Kenners Landlust advance expedition base, the showcase Wolfcenter, our amazing scientists and fascinating wildlife detection dog Molly. We also learnt about how humans and wolves can coexist in a densely populated and highly developed place like Germany. For this mighty predator has come back to stay and it is a credit to Germany that the country is making it work, the inevitable trials and tribulations aside. We are proud to say that our expedition plays a significant role in making this so and we thank everyone for making this year a great success. We hope to see many of you again in the future.

Last but not least, a very big thank you to our wonderful hosts at the Herrenhaus Gut Sunder. You truly made us feel at home here and after long days out in the field it was rewarding to get treated to an impressive variety of vegetarian menus. Vielen Dank Anja, Ilka, Claudia, Kirsten and all the others!

On a survey
Here to stay
Third and final group 3
Continue reading “Germany : Farewell & results overview”

Germany : Last few days

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

Monday brought a unique addition to our wolf volunteer team: Lea and her labrador Molly, a wildlife detection dog trained to find wolf and golden jackal evidence with her exquisite nose. The Schneverdingen team saw Molly in action in the field, while they braved the rather busy nudist trail on this hot day. Also teams Wietze and Ringelah brought back home wolf evidence, clearly demonstrating all newly trained wolf citizen scientists were up to the task.

On Tuesday our hardcore expeditioners braved up to 35°C during their hikes, but they were unphased and continued the monitoring with enthusiasm and dedication. The overnight team scanned the Amt Neuhaus wolf territory and again found much older evidence. The Ebstorf teams got lucky as they found two fresh scats, suitable for DNA analysis, not that far from the area where group 1 had its sighting. It will be interesting to see what the lab results will tell us about this territory.

With temperatures up to 39°C on Wednesday, we had to shift gears. In Göhrde that meant early morning monitoring between 5 a.m. until 10 a.m. It was clear that chances to spot wildlife in the early, cooler hours of the day are greater and working conditions less sweltering. We saw several roe deer, hares and four adult wild boar with no fewer than eleven piglets that made their way through the forest understory. Meanwhile at Gut Sunder the team visited the nearby wolf-proof fence of the livestock protection project in the morning.

Wednesday afternoon we decided to stay indoors to escape the heath and process photos, GPS tracks and take a rest.

Andreas sampling
Ben scanning
Caitlin & Michael resting
Caitlin scanning
Lea, Molly & Stefania surveying
Planning a survey
Molly and her quarry
Overnight camp at Ghörde
Continue reading “Germany : Last few days”

Germany : Third and final group underway

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

This Saturday we welcomed our third and final group of Germany wolf volunteers travelling from the US, Australia, UK, the Netherlands and Germany to the beautiful expedition base of Gut Sunder in Lower Saxony. The usual training visit to the Wolfcentre allowed our expeditioners to take a closer look at our target species, the European grey wolf.

Once arrived at expedition base, the team went into full training mode learning about wolf monitoring and how to collect and record evidence of wolf presence in accordance with to the standardised state data collection protocol protocol. The GPS devices now no longer hold secrets for the team.

On Sunday afternoon we went out for a trial hike nearby to test our newly-gained skills and find our bearings in the pine forests and heath. Sure enough Michael found the first wolf evidence which was meticulously documented by the entire team. We were also treated to some first sightings of local wildlife. Ben, who is a regular Biosphere Expeditioner, spotted the first roe deer, Kathrin saw some cranes during her early morning run and while testing our GPSs, two grass snakes and a common toad crossed our path.

While looking for wolf evidence, we heard and saw several ravens flying over. They are known as allies of the wolf and alert the wolves to potential prey to then get a share of the reward after a successful hunt. Before dinner, Theo Grüntjens, one of the first wolf commissioners of Lower Saxony and an excellent photographer, shared with us his experiences, gorgeous images and incredible footage of the local wolf pack in his region, which without a doubt is the second best to a close encounter with the species. We ended the evening with a nice dinner and lively debate on how to promote coexistence between wolves, shepherds, farmers and hunters. An inspirational day and everyone is ready for full-on wolf monitoring in the coming days.

Monitoring training
Welcome & introductions
Training at the expedition base
Documenting wolf evidence
Theo & Kathrin
Peter & Stefania
Monitoring training
Monitoring training
Continue reading “Germany : Third and final group underway”

Germany : Team 2, 327 km later

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

Thursday was the last day of wolf monitoring for group 2. While the sun has been our faithful companion through all surveys thus far, it was our first day in the rain and mud. It was a refreshing last hike and the motivation of all teams was high to bring back more wolf sign from the territories of Walle, Wietze and Ebstorf.

In Walle we came back empty-handed, in Wietze more fresh scats were found in the same area as several days ago and in Ebstorf also multiple scats were documented and collected. Each survey counts regardless of its outcome for in science the zeros are as important as the ones. Every kilometre walked by our wolf citizen scientists is valuable and would not have been covered if it was not for this dedicated annual wolf conservation expedition. Wolf evidence or the lack thereof gives relevant up-to-date real-time information on wolf presence or absence. With highly mobile predators that have home ranges up to 100-200 square kilometres per pack, it is only normal that it takes several monitoring days and multiple 10 by 10 km grids surveyed in the same territory before we can narrow down the core area of a wolf pack, which can of course also shift over time.

On Friday morning our expedition scientist Peter summed up the results of this intense but rewarding week: A total of 327 km were surveyed, covering 13 grids in nine wolf territories. Our wolf volunteers’ efforts resulted in a total of 69 scats, of which 52 were kept for further validation and dietary analyses. Out of these 52, seven fresh samples are being considered for DNA analysis, of which some might be from wolf pups. These are only preliminary results as the findings will be validated by other experts first too.

Many thanks to all for your efforts, enthusiasm and good sense of humour during this week of true team work. We also had one special sighting during this group: Sylvia’s surprise appearance in her wolf Halloween outfit that put smiles on everyone’s faces. It was nice to hear that several of our citizen scientists are keen to walk paths near their homes to see if they can find wolf evidence there as well. Keep up the good work!

Our expedition now takes a one week break to start afresh Saturday week when we welcome our third and final Biosphere Germany team of 2022.

Anne downloading images
Team 2 2022
Liam documenting wolf sign
The first rainy day of the expedition
Continue reading “Germany : Team 2, 327 km later”

Germany : Overnight excursions and more

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

On Monday the teams set out for a full day of wolf monitoring. You are never sure what the day will bring. One team walked 17 km in beautiful surroundings, but found nothing wolf-related. Others collected a few old signs. The lucky ones came across fresh signs of wolves.

It was Lotte and Carl’s turn to get lucky in the Wietze territory: they found a 346 m long track of clear footprints of an adult wolf accompanied by at least two pups. They also collected what appeared to be a fresh pup scat nearby, thus definitely new for the DNA database.

On Tuesday half of the team left for an overnight trip up into the northern part of Lower Saxony to monitor the Amt Neuhaus and Göhrde wolf territories. Closer to the expedition base, the other half of our wolf volunteer team covered over 35 km in the Ebstorf wolf territory.

With the special sighting of previous week in this area in mind, hopes were high and there was a lot of scanning crossroads and landscapes with binoculars, hoping to get a glimpse of our target species off in the distance, but sadly no wolf appearance this time. Nevertheless, our efforts were rewarded with a total of 19 wolf scats.

On Wednesday morning Timo presented the livestock protection project and we visited the wolf-proof fence of a cattle farmer nearby. Some argue these fences keep all wildlife out and not just wolf and wild boar. Camera traps were put in place during the project and show these fences have no impact on local wildlife other than wolves. During our expedition further data on this are being collected. While on site, we saw a pine martin come out of the forest into the pasture. Going through the images of the eight camera traps, we found evidence of a fox returning to the site on three consecutive days, several hare grazing during the day and night and even a mighty white-tailed eagle relaxing on one of the fence poles.

It was nice to be reunited on Thursday evening with our other friends and hear about their overnight wolf expedition in the north. In Amt Neuhaus the team had a close roe deer encounter and their perseverance in scanning trails was tested by an abundance of mosquitoes and horseflies. The trio Aniek, Martin & Pat now hold the record for the highest number of wolf signs found in one single day in the Lucie territory with no fewer than 19 scats. Very impressive work and good spotting skills. The team’s hard work was rewarded with some local ice cream.

Organising findings
Monitoring in Amt Neuhaus
Analysing camera trap data
Camp of the overnight expedition
Crossing a river to a new survey site
Ice cream reward!
Camera-trapping at a wolf-proof fence
Continue reading “Germany : Overnight excursions and more”

Germany : Team 2 in action

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

Wolf expedition team 2 hails from Ireland, UK, Germany and the Netherlands. They join our dedicated wolf citizen scientists Pat, Siggi and Syilvia staying on for their second week.

After the usual initiation/training visit of the wolf centre, we welcomed them at our expedition base Gut Sunder and got straight into training mode. After a long first day, some still had energy left and went to explore the surroundings and birdlife. Sandra and Patricia even enjoyed observing bats and fireflies around one of the nearby lakes.

On Sunday morning we were woken up early by our local cuckoo and continued training. After lunch we went on a trial monitoring hike all together in the Meißendorf territory. Along a 5 km hike across heath and pine forest, the team scanned the paths and crossings for wolf evidence. Three possible wolf scats were recorded, photographed and sampled in line with our monitoring protocol, and we can now report: team 2 ready for wolf conservation work.

Stay tuned for more.

Data collection training
Data collection training
GPS training
Liam in action
Meißendorf heath
Paul packing up research gear
Sandra taking a photo
Training lecture
Field trial run
Visiting one of the lakes behind the expedition base
Continue reading “Germany : Team 2 in action”

Germany : Wolf monitoring rewarded

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

Our first week of intensive wolf monitoring in Germany has come to an end and we just said goodbye to a great and motivated team. These wildlife conservation expeditions are always full on – and perhaps partly because of this – they are truly rewarding in terms of research and data collection. Lotte and Peter worked quite late yesterday to go through all the evidence collected this week. This morning’s wrap-up presentation summed up nicely what a team of ten dedicated wolf volunteers can accomplish in just a short week:

Our wolf citizen scientists walked a total of 310 kilometres in no fewer than thirteen 10x10km grids in seven different wolf territories. These long hikes resulted in a total of 79 scats collected, 54 of which will go in the freezer for dietary analyses and of these 6 should in principle be suitable for DNA analyses. Twenty-five scats were considered too old. Lotte already started entering data in the official wolf monitoring database and experts will validate the information and decide which ones to process further.

On our last day of monitoring, Lotte and Eleanor had unique encounter in the Ebstorf wolf territory. While checking a junction for wolf evidence, Lotte checked all four paths with her binoculars and could see an animal off in the distance. As the individual headed in their direction, they could tell it was a wolf. They stood still, kept quiet but at a distance of 60-80 m the wolf noticed them, turned around and walked back along the path and into the forest. Half an hour later they found a fresh scat and clear footprints, completing the experience quite nicely with even more evidence and data to hopefully identify the individual and reveal further secrets of the local wolf pack.

We thank our wolf volunteers for their hard work and dedication, braving temperatures up to 32°C on long hikes to contribute to wolf conservation through citizen science data collection. We hope to see you again one day and we look forward to meeting our new team tomorrow.

Claudia and Pat entering data
Lotte checking datasheets
Alistair checking weather data
At the end of the last survey day
Wolf territory
Sybille braving hot weather
Thank you team 1
Continue reading “Germany : Wolf monitoring rewarded”

Germany : Wolf monitoring in full swing

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

On Monday our team set out to two different locations for a full day of wolf monitoring. Team Claudia and Stefan accompanied by Lotte set the first record returning to base with no less than eight scats. Our experienced team Sigi and Sylvia brought back the first fresh scat, suitable for DNA analysis. Like detectives on a mission, this set the tone to monitor as many locations as possible.

On Tuesday seven of us set out on an overnight trip to Göhrde, a 2-hour car ride north-east of our base. We were welcomed there by wolf commissioner Kenny at his beautiful bio-hotel, located in the middle of the forest. Once there, three teams walked a total of 75 km over two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) and managed to collect two samples for DNA and 23 for dietary analyses, much needed to assess the current situation of the local wolf pack. One of the highlights was stumbling upon the footprints of both adult wolves and their pups, truly exhilarating to see the evidence and realise you are walking in the middle of prime wolf territory!

In the meantime, closer to our expedition base, Alastair and Silvia joined Timo to check up on camera trap images on a wolf-proof fence put in place at a cattle farm. Lotte and Claudia braved the Naturistenweg (nudist walking trail), but kept their clothes firmly on 😉 Professional as they are, they stayed focused on the task at hand.

Our counter now is at 41 samples, including four good enough for DNA analysis, from five different wolf territories – and the team is ready for more. It is fun detective and wolf citizen science work in beautiful forests of spruce and pine, but also beach and oak, and heathlands interwoven with meadows. Also, there is plenty of wildlife around and between all of us we have seen foxes, roe deer, hare, red kite, cranes, newborn squirrels, a lonesome badger, staghorn beetles and many more.

Forest path
At work
At work
Relaxing at a lookout at the end of the day
Wolf tracks
Continue reading “Germany : Wolf monitoring in full swing”

Germany : Arrived, trained, ready

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

This Saturday we welcomed our first team of wolf volunteers at the Bremen assembly point. Half of the team are Biosphere Expedition returnees keen to get a taste of new expeditions or returning to familiar ones. The trio Sylvia, Siggi and Pat are true hardcore wolf fans, having joined all four expeditions our work here in wolf conservation in Germany started. The remainder of our team has also been really keen to get into expedition action. So, it’s fair to say we have got a truly motivated team to get the citizen science wolf monitoring 2022 up and running.

After meeting up in Bremen, we drove to the Wolfcenter Dörveden to learn more about (and see) our target species. From there we proceeded to the expedition base at Herrenhaus Gut Sunder for 36 h of intensive training and a series of talks by a great team of experts.

Our expedition scientist Peter gave us an introduction to the state wolf monitoring programme , the priority survey areas and actual field data collection protocols. His assistant Lotte enlightened us about everything you possibly want to know about wolf scats (and more). Expedition leader Malika trained us on GPS and radio use as well as other equipment. Ingrid from the Wolfsbüro underlined the importance of citizen science in gathering long term data on wolf populations to inform strategies for coexistence with a large predator. Theo, the first wolf commissioner of Lower Saxony and an excellent photographer, treated us to a stunning presentation of the Lüneburg Heath biodiversity and how everything in this ecosystem is connected. Finally, this Sunday afternoon we did a first trial in the field to test our newly developed skills along a 7 km hike in pine forests in 31°C. Today, Monday, surveying proper starts in earnest.

Learning about the wolf at the Wolfcenter
Scientist Peter on the area around base
Peter’s assistant Lotte on scat
Expedition leader Malika on equipment
Sylvia and Alastair on data collection training
More training
Continue reading “Germany : Arrived, trained, ready”

Germany : Ready for you

Update from our Germany wolf volunteer project

Without further ado and in a sentence: We are ready for you – time to pull your weight.

Continue reading “Germany : Ready for you”
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