Rewilded grazers meet Latvian wolves

11 – 6 – 2012

One can not only find rewilded herds of bovines and horses within the Netherlands, also in many other parts of Europe, including Latvia. Last decade several herds of koniks horses and wild bovines were reintroduced from the Netherlands into Latvian Natura. But there are two main differences between their old and new habitat. For one winters are much more severe, and secondly, this time they can come face to face with wolves.

Reintroduction of rewilded horses and bovines does not just end by releasing them. The animals have to get used to their new circumstances and environment. When animals never have seen wolves they have to adapt. They have to do that themselves, we can’t help them with that.

Various Latvian reserves recently showed an increase in wolf predation on foals and calves. Sometimes wolves predating animals is observed, but more often it is merely noted that young animals just disappear completely. On the opposite, the Latvian wolf population has been more or less stable last couple of years. Is the local wolf population learning that a new food source has arrived?

2011 was a tough year for the Latvian wild horses and especially the bovines. Winter was long and hard. In areas such as Sitas un Pedezes Paliene (in northern Latvia), Kumbuli (south eastern Latvia) and Kemeri (near Riga), the number of surviving foals and calves decreased severely, more so compared to previous years and as food availability might suggest. Notably the number of surviving calves is much lower compared to foals.

In one area, within a herd of 44 adult wild Konik horses, only 11 foals survived trough the year. Within the same reserve on 56 adult bovines only 5 calves survived. Elsewhere, within a 37 adult animal strong bovine herd, only 3 calves survived. In this more eastern reserve winter struck harder, which also caused 8 adults the die. Here among 54 adults wild konik horses no deaths, but only 7 foals surviving. Across Latvia population growth among wild bovines in 2011 was 16%, among wild horse about 31%(*), in comparison within the Netherlands growth rates were 36% and 29% (**).

Of the reserves where predation currently occurs, it is known that even before starting these natural grazing project, wolves were present. It seems that the wolves are currently learning that an new food source became available. The large grazing animals, especially the bovines, still need to learn how to defend themselves.

* Figures from the herds covered by the ARK Nature herd fund.
** Figures from the herds of FREE Nature, live sales and slaughtered animals not included