Book review – A neutral portrayal of a large carnivore

Book recommendation by Doris Kriegsherr – opinion piece

I got to know Henryk Okarma in February 2022 through the golden jackal projectin Poland. He is one of the leading wolf experts worldwide and was part of a European team of scientists from Austria (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna), Hungary (University of Kaposvar) and Poland (Polish Academy of Sciences, Krakow), who came together in search of the golden jackal, using various methods. One of the methods was detection of golden jackal scat through a three (or six) part team of trained dogs, which I was a part of with my dog, trained and certified by the NATURSCHUTZHUNDE organisation. You can get an insight into the Golden Jackal Project with this short video.

Handbuch Wolf

At one of the evening presentations I found out about Henryk’s book „Handbuch Wolf“, which he wrote in 2019 in collaboration with Sven Herzog, a notable zoologist. It is a comprehensive scientific work on the subject of wolves. It is based on a 2014 treatise by Okarma and presents the wolf in different perspectives. Poland leads the field in Europe for wolf biology and the book gives an insight into the intensive work of polish wolf research.

The first five chapters cover basic principles such as phylogeny and taxonomy, range and habitat, morphology and anatomy, as well as behaviour. Several photos, graphics, maps and tables are used for illustration and quoted information cites scientific studies. I got the impression that I was reading a particularly intelligible textbook.

Wolf management as well as the relationship between humans and wolves were the subjects of the next two chapters. For both authors, the main role of wolf management is to change the view that people have of wolves and foster acceptance. In their words: “If we manage to remove the ideological burden and convey the wolf as a fascinating, and ultimately normal wild animal in its habitat, with all the positive and negative consequences of its existence, this handbook has achieved its intended goal.”

Conflicts with human interest, as well as management techniques with their pros and cons, are presented.

For example:

In pastoral farming, depredation by wolves can result in enormous economic losses for livestock owners. However, compensation payments are usually only successful if specialised fences are erected to protect the livestock. Should a wolf still manage to overcome the fence, a huge amount of animal suffering is caused through killed or seriously injured livestock. The wolf doesn’t always kill the animals immediately. The reason for this is the extremely high stimulation and predator reflexes of the wolf. These lead not only to the death of a single, but multiple animals, as the livestock cannot escape through the fence. In the wild this isn’t the case; when a wolf brings down an animal, it eats the whole thing, saving some parts for its pups, and the rest of the herd can escape. A fence alone is therefore not always enough. But if there are many livestock guarding dogs behind the fence, this is much more intimidating for a wolf and it will think twice about crossing it.

Handbuch Wolf is a neutral contribution to the current weighted discourse on the subject. It is non-judgemental and objective. It not only appeals to scientists, but also to animal lovers, conservationists, livestock owners, farmers, foresters, hunters, government officials and politicians, and allows readers to develop an informed opinion around the subject of the wolf.

Doris Kriegsherr is a board member of the NATURSCHUTZHUNDE organisation and manages the training of human/dog teams detecting the scat of large carnivores as part of LIFEstockProtect.

Handbuch Wolf, Henryk Okarma, Sven Herzog, Kosmos Verlag, Stuttgart 2019

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