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The Wolf in Slovenia

Context, Natural Return of Wolf and Evolution of the Population up to 2020

Apart from many European countries wolves never completely disappeared from Slovenian territory. During the decades of systematic wolf persecution in the 18th and 19th centuries, wolves survived in the most remote parts of the Dinaric mountains. After the end of World War I and again during World War II the wolf population in Slovenia started to expand. But this expansion was short-lived because soon after the end of the 2nd World War systematic persecution of wolves began again. Although awards for killing wolves were abolished and hunting season determined in the seventies, it is presumed that in the eighties of the 20th century only a few individuals were still present in Slovenia. Following year-round protection of the wolf in 1993, the third wave in the spread of the species in the Dinaric Mountains began after that the population started to grow and recolonize some of its historic habitats.

Systematic wolf monitoring based on molecular analysis of non-invasive genetic samples, capture-recapture modeling and systematic wolf litter detection via “howling test” began in 2010. Between 2010 and 2011 Slovenia’s wolf population size estimate was between 34 and 42 individuals. From then on the expansion and growth of the wolf population in Slovenia is well documented. The last available population size estimate comes from the monitoring season 2018/2019. It was estimated that there are between 86 and 110 wolves (excluding transborder individuals) in Slovenia forming 14 packs.

Since the beginning of the third wolf expansion wave, wolf pack presence was limited to the southern and western parts of Slovenia. When the systematic monitoring started there were just sporadic occurrences of single animals in pre-alpine and alpine regions of the country. But in monitoring seasons 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 there was a swift leap in spatial expansion of wolf population. First, three male-female pairs were detected in the alpine and pre-alpine regions, and during the 2019 “howling test” the presence of three newly established wolf packs was detected. This marks the return of the wolf to an area from where it disappeared during the 18th/19th century.

Main issues and threats

In Slovenia as in other countries with permanent wolf populations, the main issues connected with this predator are livestock depredation and, to certain degree, competition with hunters for natural prey, mostly wild ungulates. Damages on livestock fluctuate periodically. In the first half of last decade, there was a decline in wolf damages, since 2017 the number of wolf attacks on domestic animals (mostly sheep and goats) is rising. In the last few years, there has also been an increase in damages wolves caused on larger grazing animals (mostly cattle), which represents an issue, since most of local damage prevention technologies have been tested and developed for smaller animals. In addition to this, the spatial expansion of wolves to pre-alpine and alpine regions poses a new challenge for large mountain pasture protection, especially pastures that are also a popular recreation destinations. Moreover, the return of wolves to alpine regions aroused strong feelings of fear within local communities which were not used to permanent wolf presence.

Apart from illegal killing, the main increasing threat to Slovenia’s wolf population is also wolf- dog crossbreeding. Although this phenomenon is not as serious as in some other countries we already detected two packs with wolf-domestic dog hybrid litter, recently.

Species protection and management

In Slovenia, the wolf enjoys complete legal protection with exceptional culls permitted to decrease larger conflicts with agriculture. Provisions for wolf protection are included in national legislation in Nature Conservation Act, Environment Protection Act, Hunting Act, and Forest Act. Since 2015 Slovenian Ministry for environment finances National wolf monitoring projects, as well as pays compensations for wolf damages and finances livestock damage prevention measures.

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