Monitoring wolves (Canis lupus lupus) –
citizen science provides important results
Authors: Peter Schütte (wolf commissioner) & Matthias Hammer (Biosphere Expeditions)
Kaczensky et al (2011) Wer war es - Risse erkennen 4. Auage
Kaczensky, P., Chapron, G., von Arx, M., Huber, D., Andrén H., Linnell, J. (2013) Status, management and distribution of large carnivores – bear, lynx, wolf & wolverine – in Europe, March 2013 – part1
Reinhardt, I., Kluth, G, Nowak, S., Mysłajek, R. (2015a) Standards for the monitoring of the Central European wolf population in Germany and Poland. BfN-Skripten 398, Bonn, Bundesamt für Naturschutz
Reinhardt, I., Kluth, G., Kaczensky, P., Knauer, F., Rauer, G., Wöl, S., Huckschlag, D. & Wotschikowsky, U. (2015b) Monitoring von Wolf, Luchs und Bär in Deutschland. BfN-Skripten 413, Bonn, Bundesamt für Naturschutz
Senckenberg Institut für Wildtiergenetik (2011) Behandlung und Versand von Probenmaterial für genetische Analysen
Schütte, P. , Hammer, M. (2018) Love / hate relationships: Monitoring the return of the wolf to the German state of Lower Saxony. Biosphere Expeditions report available via www.biospheere-expeditions.org/reports
2017 (dietary analysis pending):
Over four weeks 49 citizen scientists took part (42 from Germany or its
immediate neighbour states (86%), four of them (8%) from Lower Saxony,
three from North America (6%), two from Australia (4%), as well as one person
each from India (2%) and Singapore (2%).
Twenty-ve 10x10 km grid cells of the EEA grid system and 1,133 km were
surveyed on foot or by bicycle. All grid cells were surveyed multiple times
(n = 52).
76 wolf scat samples were collected. 33 yielded material for DNA analysis
and 75 provided material for dietary analysis.
Twenty-two (29%) of the 76 scat samples collected were classied as C1 pieces
of hard evidence on the SCALP classication system, 19 (24%) as C2 conrmed
observation and 30 (40%) as C3 unconrmed observations. Five (7%) did not
originate from a wolf. One direct sighting was also recorded as a C1 piece of
Results of DNA analysis:
- six individuals conrmed: two female and four male wolves
- presence of a new wolf pack conrmed
- two areas of high wolf activity identied
Thirty-two tracks, a variety of fur remains and ve wolf kill carcasses were also
found, but did not pass quality assessment procedures.
2018 (preliminary results, DNA and dietary analysis pending):
Over two weeks 23 citizen scientists took part (15 from Germany or its immediate
neighbour states (65%), two of them (8%) from Lower Saxony, three from North
America (13%), three from UK (13%), as well as one person each from Australia
and Iceland (4%).
Fifteen 10x10 km grid cells of the EEA grid system and 638 km were surveyed
on foot and 100 km by bicycle. All grid cells were surveyed multiple times (n=29).
200 wolf scat samples were collected. 25 yielded material for DNA analysis
and all of them provided material for dietary analysis. Another 50 scats were
very old and therefore not sampled.
Seven tracks were found, but did not pass quality assessment procedures.
One direct sighting was also recorded as a C1 piece of hard evidence.
The quantity and quality of samples collected by the active
monitoring eort of citizen scientists is remarkable, boosting
annual ocial wolf sign records by over a third in quantity
and producing a quality ratio of 53% of C1 and C2 records
(the quality ratio of the passive ocial monitoring programme
is around 40%).
This shows that with two days of training, contributions of
citizen scientists towards wolf research and conservation can be
high in quality as well as quantity. The project serves as a show-
case of how international citizen scientists can make a signicant
contribution to regional wildlife conservation eorts.
Citizen scientists conducted ‘presence sign surveys’,
searching for signs of wolves such as tracks, scats,
scratch marks, kills or direct sightings following Rein-
hardt et al.’s (2015a) monitoring methods, ways
of documenting and evaluating ndings in the eld.
The main focus was to nd DNA material (scat) for
further analyses of the wolf population and to
determine individuals from this.
The rst two days of each week were dedicated to
training the citizen scientists through a mixture of
classroom sessions and practical lessons in the eld.
Training included recognizing wolf signs (tracks,
scat, kills/carcasses or hair), sample collection and
handling in accordance with Kaczensky et al. (2011)
and Senckenberg Institut für Wildtiergenetik (2011).
Documentation of ndings was also covered,
using data sheets and photos following Reinhardt
et al. (2015b). Equipment training on GPS receivers,
cameras, radios and sample collection kits was also
conducted. Standardised datasheets, translated
from and closely based on those of the ocial wolf
monitoring programme, were designed for surveys
and citizen scientists were trained on how to
complete them correctly.
Typical expedition day
Survey routes were decided in advance with input
from wolf commissioners, landowners/landusers
and foresters. Each morning the expedition team
divided into sub-teams of two or more people, who
were assigned to survey a certain area that day.
Each group was equipped with eld and tracking
equipment as above.
After an absence of more than 150 years, the Eurasian
wolf (Canis lupus lupus) started to colonise Germany
and reached the federal state of Lower Saxony in 2006.
This ‘Central European Lowland Population’ of Canis
lupus lupus is:
- classied by IUCN as Endangered since 2012
(Kaczensky et al. 2013)
- protected by European law through the
Fauna Flora Habitat (FFH) Directive
and German law (Federal Nature Conservation Act)
- dened as isolated, as there is no unrestricted
reproductive exchange with other populations
The objective, as per the FFH Directive, is to achieve
and maintain a ‘Favourable Conservation Status’ (FCS)
for this wolf population. We argue that for this active
wolf monitoring is required.
However, in Lower Saxony the ocial wolf monitoring
methodology is conducted in a passive way only (sign
is not actively searched for, but only reported as it is
found by hunters, wolf commissioners and others as
and when they have time to report ndings) follow-
ing SCALP criteria.
Citizen science NGO Biosphere Expeditions, the state
wolf bureau and a number of wolf commissioners
started an active monitoring programme (where by
sign is actively searched for over a concentrated time
period). This programme involved international citi-
zen scientists and data gathered were added to the
existing wolf monitoring database.
Field work conducted (one group up to 12 citizen sci-
entists for one week):
2017: 4 groups of 1 week each in June/July,
total of 49 citizen scientists
2018: 2 groups of 1 week each in June/July,
total of 23 citizen scientists
Monitoring area in Lower Saxony (Google Maps)
DNA wolf DNA no wolf Species not de-
Total DNA sam-
Week 1 1001
Week 2 4026
Week 3 14 4 4 22
Week 4 3014
Total 22 4 7 33