Wolves in Croatia: Baseline Data
In “WOLVES IN EUROPE, C. Promberger and W. Schroder, eds., Oberammergau, Germany, 1992, pages 66-69
Reprinted with permission from Djuro Huber.
Croatian Forests, Delnice Forest Office, Supilova 32, 51300 Delnice, Republic of Croatia
Biology Department, Veterinary Faculty, Heinzelova 55, 41000 Zagreb, Republic of Croatia
Traditionally the whole area of Croatia was the wolf habitat, but nowadays the wolves live only the mountainous regions in Gorski kotar and Lika. They were prosecuted as pests and up to 237 wolves were killed annually, mostly due to stimulations by high bounties.
Conclusions on the trend of the wolf population in Croatia could be drawn only from the data about their mortality. Good data on wolf mortality exist since 1946 for Gorski Kotar (Frkovi et al. 1988) i. e. the western portion of their habitat in Croatia. Frkovi et al. (1988) reported on mortality of 540 wolves in the Gorski Kotar during 1946-86. The causes of mortality over the whole period included shooting (56%), poisoning (33%), trapping (2%), and other means (9%). Poisoning was banned since 1972 and the bounty system was abandoned in Gorski Kotar around 1975. In the first 3 decades (1945-76) the annual mortality averaged 14.6, while in the last one (1977-86) it dropped to 8.9 (significant at P<0.05 level, t test). However, the most recent unpublished data are much more dramatical: in the last 5 years only 5 wolves were shoot in Gorski Kotar (0 in 1987 and 1989, 1 in 1988 and 1990, and 3 in 1991). As the legal status of wolves didn’t change this drop is considered as a direct consequence of a drop in population size. On the level of whole Croatia, available is information that from 1955-77 the mean annual wolf mortality was 147 (range 90-237), and from 1980-83 it dropped to 90 (range 84-100). The current population estimates for Gorski Kotar is 5 wolves in eastern part (in one pack) plus 2 in western part which are probably shared with Slovenia. Rough estimate for Lika region is 15 wolves. This makes a total that barely exceeds 20 wolves in whole Croatia. The evident population decline started around 1980 until when the wolves coped with continuous hunting pressure. The additional negative factors, that arose in 1980-es, may be the rabies breakout with peak in 1982-85 (however no confirmed rabid wolves), and the decline of numbers of wild ungulates partly due to the lynx introduction. It should be noted that wolves in the war affected Lika and Bosnia and Hercegovina are in danger. At least two wolves were recorded killed by stepping on mines and one by gun in the battle line between Gorski Kotar and Lika.
The persisting legal status of wolves still permits anyone to kill them by any means and at any time. The new “hunting law which is under preparation proposes no-hunting-season from 01 March till 31 September, total protection of nursing females and litters, and ban on bounties for killed wolves. Shooting will be permitted only with defined hunting guns. In the meantime, i.e. already, some regions accepted local agreements on regulated (rationalized) wolf hunting. For example the commune Vrbovsko in Gorski Kotar agreed in 1984 to keep at least one pair of wolves in their area. In practice this resulted that they hunted not a single wolf since. In the areas with extensive sheep breeding (Lika, Dalmatinska zagora) wolves are still important pests, and this is the major obstacle for their legal protection. With the current status of wolf no one is due to compensate the damage he makes.
Country currently inhabited by wolves in Croatia extends in the mountain regions from the Adriatic coast through Gorski kotar and Lika (Dinara mountains). The elevations range from 0 to 1800 m. Forest covers 70% of Gorski kotar and about 60% of Lika. Forests dominated by hornbeam, sessile oak, and hop-hornbeam are located on the south-western exposures up to 500 m in elevation. European beech dominates from 500 to 900 m, and European beech, silver spruce and Norway spruce at elevations greater than 900 m. Above 1100 m subalpine beech forest is followed by dwarf mountain pine that extends upward to the treeline. Gorski kotar is settled with about 25 residents per km2, and Lika with >20 residents per km2.
The wolves are seen in packs as well as singles in the areas from coastal chaparral to mature mountain forests. They seem to follow the migrations of wild ungulates. When the natural prey is sparse and/or domestic available he turns to opportunistic feeding habits. Principal wild food are roe deer, red deer, and small mammals. No quantitative studies on wolf food habits were done. Sheep is the most important domestic prey. With no damage compensation system, no one is systematically recording the number of sheep killed.
The most of the eastern half of wolf habitat in Croatia (Lika and Dalmatinska zagora) is still occupied by Serbian aggression, i.e. out of legal control of Croatian government. The western part (Gorski Kotar) presently holds only few wolves and the public attitude is favorable for this species mostly because in the last 7 years no wolf damage was recorded. The last incident was in 1984 when wolves killed and/or wounded 38 sheep in one night near Delnice. It should be noted that the damage of such extend was not recorded in several previous decades in this region.
The need for legal protection is urgent. Though the no-hunting-season is proposed, it’s implementation is slowed down (hesitated) because of the fact that it will automatically require the payment of all damage. Finding the funding source is greater obstacle to legal protection, than the fear that the population may go “too high again. Real scientific study (involving marking and tracking) of wolves in Croatia was never preformed, and it could be easily argumented that this would be one of essential steps for their long term survival.
Based on presented “background data we propose the action for wolf protection in two basic steps:
1. Establish the total protection of wolves in Gorski Kotar, and encourage the acceptance of the new hunting law for the Republic of Croatia in witch will be established the no-hunting-season for wolves.
2. Establish the total protection of wolves in the whole Croatia. The action in this direction could be considered only after the government of Croatia will legally control the whole country.
- To achieve the total protection of wolves in Gorski Kotar (step 1) the sequence could be:
- a) The “international body should give the written guarantee to cover financially all the damage done by wolves in Gorski Kotar.
- b) Gorski Kotar will accept a legislative act stating that wolves in that region are totally protected species.
- c) The date when the contract will be effective will be agreed.
The parties should agree about the procedure of evaluation of damage i.e. if it was done by wolf and about the financial value. The details to negotiate are the composition of commission to perform the evaluation (international or Croatian, number of members), the time aloud between the occurrence of damage, it’s reporting, and the commission check, the proofs required, the way of payment etc. At this stage we consider only the damage on domestic animals. If the question of “damage on wildlife will be raised it will be treated separately. In the case of excessive damage the parties may agree to permit the killing of one or more problem wolves.
Frkovi, A., L.R. Ruff, L. Cicnjak, and D. Huber (1988). Ulov vuka u Gorskom kotaru u razdoblju od 1945. do 1986. godine. [umarski list. 62: 519-530.