Watching Wolves in Europe

Seeing wolves in the wild in Europe isn’t easy. Mostly, we have to make do with finding signs of their presence.

Wolves are now protected in most European countries.

Eurasian wolf packs and individuals have now been spotted as far west as the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, although their strongholds are still in the north and east. In total, the grey wolf population in Europe is estimated to be around 12,000 animals (excluding Belarus, Ukraine and Western Russia) in 28 countries. (Info from Rewilding Europe)

Top photo © Christels/Pixnio Creative Commons Licence, bottom photo Photo User:Mas3cf, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Magura National Park in southern Poland was our best bet for seeing wolves. It was an informal trip, organised by someone who had been there several times, and had seen wolves a couple of times. But, as with all wildlife, there were no guarantees. It was a new place for us, so somewhere to be enjoyed, regardless.

We set up trail-cams. One for each member of the group, variously overlooking ponds and wallows – wild boar were another possibility here. We took long walks, looking at birds, plants, reptiles, and anything else. We had hot scorching days, we had terrific downpours.

One day, we (just the two of us) walked along the Poland/Slovakia border – once a no-man’s land with fences and border guards, now part of a long-distance trail through the forest. We were told to stick to the trail because there were probably still land-mines in some areas of the woods. But even so, we were still vulnerable. Bears and wolves were known to be in the area, even if they were infrequently encountered. What should we do if we did encounter them? Bears were usually solitary, or mother and cubs. Wolves were pack animals, and we could be surrounded without realising it. We kept going, sort of hoping not to see any.

What we did see from time to time, were large carnivore scats – piles of droppings that were too big and coarse for domestic dog, but too small for bear. And always these scats were surrounded by butterflies and other insects, mining the scats for minerals and salts they needed to survive and produce eggs. Perhaps not what you expect of beautiful insects, but part of their survival strategy anyway.

At the end of the week, the trail-cam results were disappointing. Between us, we had the odd wild boar, deer, owls, and a badger. At least the beavers living in the stream near the village obliged every evening.


Improving your chances

So, are there any way of improving your chances of seeing wolves? I’ve scoured the internet, and found the following ‘wolf-watching’ trips. Generally, you will be tracking wolves and learning about them and their interactions with other animals and the environment. Actually seeing a wolf, or even hearing one, is the icing on the cake. The exception is the Norway trip, where you are taken to meet a semi-wild pack in a very large enclosure.

I have not used any of these companies, and have no affiliation with them. This is simply a round-up of possibilities. The brief comments are taken from the company websites.


Bulgaria

It is now possible to organize unique tailor-made wolf tracking holidays in Bulgaria. These wolf tracking holidays are particularly rewarding during the winter months when the mountains are covered in snow, and the wolves and their ungulate prey can be tracked on foot, often with the aid of snowshoes.


Finland

Responsible Travel: With a 100% success rate in photographing wild brown bears & wolverines and over 80% chance of photographing wolves, this is the best tour for anyone wanting to see and photograph some of Europe’s largest and top predators.

Wildlifeworldwide: Join award winning wildlife photographer Bret Charman or Emma Healey on a five-night tour to northern Finland’s remote boreal forest in search of Europe’s large predators.

Wildlifeworldwide: You stay at two carefully selected locations equipped with purpose-built hides, where you keep a night vigil with a local guide to see brown bears, wolverines and wolves lured by carrion. In the day there are nature walks in the vicinity or optional trips further afield.

Finnature: In Finland, it is possible to see wild Wolves at special wildlife watching sites. At these sites, predators are attracted in front of viewing hides with food. Comfortable viewing hides are excellent places to watch Wolves safely. While Brown Bears and Wolverines are regular visitors at these sites, Wolves come around more rarely. This is because Wolves avoid conflicts with other carnivores, but also because they have larger territories. We at Finnature can help you to choose the best sites for Wolf watching. The best time for Wolf watching is from spring to autumn.

WildTaiga: Overnight stays in a photographic hide watching for carnivores


France

Undiscoveredmountains: Your high mountain guide and tracker, Bernard has been following the colonisation of the wolves in the French Alps for 20 years. With a wealth of local knowledge and access to a network of other local wolf enthusiasts, you won’t get a much better insight into these elusive animals. He will take you on a 4 day adventure following tracks and signs of wolf activity in the area and give you a rare insight in to the lives and behaviour of the other animals as they live under the threat of the wolf. This is a tracking holiday so we will be following signs of wolves and spending some time wildlife watching and interpreting what we see. However, it isn’t a wolf park and the territory of each pack or solitary wolf is enormous. So, please be aware that although you may be lucky and find signs straight away, you may not find anything and there is no guarantee you will see or hear a wolf.  


Germany

Biosphere Expeditions: wolf conservation expedition. Elaine gives an account of her experience here


Norway

Arctic holiday: This arctic animal-orientated journey packs in the mesmerising Northern Lights and a thrilling dog sledding ride. You will also visit the Polar Park and meet the local wildlife, like lynx and reindeer, and last but not least; Arctic Wolves! All this, while travelling through stunning arctic landscapes and enjoying local food along the way.

Polar Park is the world’s northernmost animal park & arctic wildlife centre. Animals you’ll see include wolves, lynx, moose, bears, wolverines, and muskox. They look especially great in their natural habitat with thick coats in winter! These predators live in wilderness enclosures with massive spaces to roam, so you may need all day to see all of them.

Photo User:Mas3cf, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Poland

Responsibletravel: Bieszczady belongs to the lowest mountain ranges of Carpathians (max. 1346 m/4416 feet). Scarcely populated and largely forested these mountains are now teeming with wildlife and have become the most important Polish refuge for Brown Bears, Wolves, Lynx and even Wild Cats. Moreover, there is a large herd of wild European Bison living here as well as plenty of Beavers and we will aim to see them all.

Naturetrek: This unique winter wildlife holiday focuses on the large mammals that are rare or extinct in western Europe, but still flourish in the remoter eastern corners of the continent. This holiday explores the meandering rivers of the Biebrza Marshes and the extensive forests of Bialowieza, including the primeval ‘Strict Reserve’. Within this snowy landscape live Elk (Moose), Red Deer, Beaver and a variety of birds, along with the impressive European Bison. There will also be the opportunity to listen for wolves howling in the forest.   


Portugal

European Safari Company: Faia Brava reserve is the first privately owned natural reserve in Portugal. It is bordered by the Côa River, and it is part of the Archeological Park of the Côa Valley, a UNESCO world heritage site. Oak forests and former cropland returning to nature are home to griffons, Egyptian and black vultures, golden and Bonelli’s eagles. In this experience you will learn how to track wolves, enjoy hikes around the private reserve of Faia Brava, and get to know the rich cultural and historical heritage of the Côa Valley. The accommodations are charming family-owned guesthouses in which you will feel like home sitting with a glass of some of Portugal’s finest wines and enjoying delicious local cuisine and a beautiful view.


Romania

Responsible Travel: A 6-day long private trip in Transylvania, with 4 days (morning and evening) focusing on wolf watching and tracking with a wildlife researcher. We’ll also take the opportunity to visit Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s Castle), enjoy the medieval town of Brasov with the most Eastern Gothic church, the Black Church, as well as the unforgettable sceneries of the Carpathian mountains in search of wolf tracks. Wolves are very shy animals due to the numerous persecutions from people, who learned the art of camouflage the hard way. This trip gives you the opportunity to look for wolves in their natural habitat, at safe distance to minimize the negative impact of our activities on these magnificent carnivores.


Spain

Naturetrek: This tour offers a chance to look for three of Europe’s most iconic mammals in contrasting habitats in northern Spain – the Bay of Biscay, Somiedo Natural Park in the western Cantabrian Mountains and the rolling hills of Zamora Province. Our holiday begins with a ferry trip to Santander across the Bay of Biscay, where we’ll watch for whales, dolphins and seabirds. On arrival in northern Spain we head to the heart of Somiedo in search of bears, before transferring to our second base in Zamora for two days of wolf-scanning. There’ll be some special birds too, including plenty of raptors, bustards and other mountain and steppe birds. We finish the tour with a little light culture in Santander.

Wild Wolf Experience: The Sierra de la Culebra hosts the highest density of wild wolves in Spain, but any sighting has to be regarded as a bonus when spending time in this area of wolf country. We do have a high success rate of sightings of these iconic predators, but at least be assured, if you haven’t seen them… they have seen you! Our Watching for Wolves tour operates throughout the year and is based in our home area of the Sierra de la Culebra in the far north west of Spain. The Sierra de la Culebra has recently been declared a Biosphere Reserve, which also includes the Duero Gorge.

Visit Andalucia gives some hints about the best places to see wolves in the province


Sweden

Responsible Travel: Join a tracker for a day out in wolf territory. Tracking wolves is always exciting! During this trip we travel together by foot and by van in small groups in one of Sweden´s wolf territories. You will have good chances to track Wolves and feel their presence.

Responsible Travel: Sweden wildlife tours over a long weekend uncover an inordinate amount of animal life with moose, beavers, foxes and red squirrels all to be found if you know where to look. Following a guide on a four day Sweden wildlife tour lets you learn as you explore with bird calls deciphered and animal tracks uncovered, especially when tracking through the realm of the wolf.

Naturetrek: In the beautiful forests of central Sweden some of Europe’s larger mammal species, long since extinct in the British Isles, still outnumber the human population. On this short break we’ll search for Elk, Beaver and learn how to track Wolves amidst the scenic lakes and dense forests of Sweden’s Bergslagen region. Based in a lakeside guesthouse, inside a forest, we’ll make evening excursions to look for Elk and Beaver. We’ll track Wolves and our guide may even demonstrate how to attract their attention – by howling! 


Photo (c) Malene Thyssen, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons


Wolf distribution and population in Europe 2019.

Wolves have now been found in low (often very low) density across much of Europe. The brown areas on the map show where they (or signs of them) are most frequent.

A larger version of the map can be seen here

© Sciencia58, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


Related post

Bear-watching

A round-up of opportunities for watching and photographing bears in Europe

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9 thoughts on “Watching Wolves in Europe

  1. What a fabulous encounter to have with wolves and I never realised that there were still so many places in the world where you could see wolves in their natural habitat. I must admit that France would never be a place I could have imagined them living.

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    • Thanks for reading. Wolves are very good at staying out of sight, so they are probably in a lot of unexpected places – the Netherlands was the country that surprised me, but that is only a couple of fairly recent sightings.

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  2. This is an absolutely phenomenal post. Wolves are such incredible creatures, I would love to see them one day! Also, I had no idea they lived in Belgium and the Netherlands – fascinating!

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    • Thanks for reading. Some wolves travel incredible distances – as radio-tracking and GPS tracking have shown. Whether the animals actually settled in these countries, and will they be successful if they did, remains to be seen.

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    • Thank you for reading. Belgium and the Netherlands have so many more protected areas now than when I first visited 30 years ago, and with the rewilding movement gathering momentum, there are more places that are reasonably safe for them.

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  3. Loved this post!! I had no idea this was possible in so many European countries. Saving for future reference. We just saw our first grey wolf in the wild in Grand Canyon National Park. So exciting!

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    • Thanks for reading. Often we don’t know what is out there until we start researching. When I visited Finland in 1999, I’d read they were in the area but we didn’t see any signs of them – they were really scarce. Next time I’ll be trying one of the places I’ve listed here. And if all else fails, the Polar Park in Norway might be a good option for photography. Or maybe I’ll have found out about a few more places by then.

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  4. I’m sure it was disappointing to not actually see a wolf with the effort you put into it. It was interesting to learn what a large area they cover in Europe. It saddens me that here in the US they have been removed from the endangered species list and some states are allowing them to be hunted again.

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    • Thanks for reading. There is a bit of a joke that people interested in mammals are obsessed with looking at paw prints and poo. So many mammals are hard to see that you get used being satisfied with just knowing they are around from their signs.

      It’s always worrying when something loses its protected status. So long as populations are monitored, hunting could be regulated according to increases and decreases. Unfortunately, once something is off the list, it usually means money for monitoring goes to something else instead – leaving a real risk that the original species will suddenly decline again.

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