The Legendary Wolf: A Shy Killer

The one and only wildlife reserve for wolves in Romania is near Zarnesti, Brasov County. Still, it is weird that, in a country where the wolf threat is used to make children behave themselves and Little Red Riding Hood is a fairy tale almost assimilated as folklore, a reserve for wolves is needed. An animal which, at first sight, appears to be commonplace due to its mythological presence.In fact, our wolves are an endangered species. Moreover, although every winter they attack isolated sheep and look for food in isolated households, they have ended up being terrorized by the presence of humans, due to the fact that man has killed, tortured, and chased their fellow wolves for many years.In Zarnesti, we met Simona Buretea, the representative of the foundation that has established the wildlife reserve, and together we headed for a chalet some 20 kilometers from Zarnesti, in the Piatra Craiului Mountains to encounter an animal that has troubled our childhood dreams, but which most of us have only seen as a petty dog-like creature at the zoo. The truth is that the wolves are beautiful, but their eyes are frightening when they stare at you with their hallucinating gaze.
Romanian wolf persecuted and terrorized
Buretea has explained to us that the wolf is a persecuted animal and that his life is not great at all. "For a very long time, man coexisted with wolves without special problems. But, as forests were destroyed and humans multiplied, the behavior of the wolves has changed."The analysis of the areas where packs of wolves roam has led researchers to the conclusion that wolves definitely need wilderness to survive, but they have only withdrawn to wild areas because of the persecution they were subjected to. "Wolves are not happy to run into men, this is why it is extremely difficult to see wolves or bears in the woods. They are afraid of humans and they are elusive. They have adjusted to the persecution this way. We can say that the Romanian wolves are terrorized by men who have hunted them down and killed them for many decades. They are somewhat different from other wolves." 
Only the alphas mate
Wolves live in packs, usually made up of two or more adults, the puppies of the alphas, and the survivors of the preceding year's litter. So, it is only one family. In nature, the pack is limited, because basically only 10 wolves can feed on a kill, and those who cannot get enough food leave the pack. There is a very strict hierarchy in the pack. Normally, only the alpha male and the alpha female mate in late February. After 62-64 days, the she-wolf gives birth to up to 12 puppies. All the pack members participate in bringing up the puppies. Although usually the alpha male is the strongest animal in the pack, the alpha female is the most influential member. She chooses the lair for the puppies, which is changed every couple of weeks or so. The puppies that do not have any chance of becoming alphas will leave the pack in a couple of years. 
Romania has the largest number of wolves in Europe
The Project for Large Carpathian Carnivores founded in 1993 is a joint initiative of the National Forest Company (RNP) and the Wild Life Society in Munich (WGM). Its purpose is to protect large meat eaters and their habitat with community support. This project was launched by a German biologist, Christoph Promberger, and a Romanian, Ovidiu Ionescu, former director of the Forestry Research Institute. So far, they have spent approximately $1 million on this project, much of the money coming from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).Simona Buretea, who is in charge of educating people and making them aware of the issue, has explained to us why this unique reserve was established here in Romania, considering that Europe should be full of wolves, especially in its eastern regions. "The Romanian Carpathians are the home of the largest population of brown bears, wolves, and lynx in Europe: more than one third of the European large meat eaters live in these mountains, which only cover 1.5 percent of the European area west of Russia. Such a density is not found anywhere else on the old continent. Except for predators, almost the entire original mammal fauna still lives on this mountain range."
Largest "beast" – 72 kilos
The largest wolf weighed in Romania weighed 72 kilos. Usually, the Carpathian wolves eat stags, but they also kill wild boars and chamois. Research has indicated that an adult wolf needs 2-2.5 kilos of food per day to keep in shape. Wolves eat grass just to get rid of intestine parasites and sometimes they eat fruit for vitamins.Most wolves die in the first year of their lives. If they become alphas, they live up to seven, eight or even ten years of age. In captivity, they may live for as long as fifteen years.
Beasts attack households
Some time in 2001, wolves came down to the households of some villages in Neamt County. The attacks occurred during the day and the wolves killed sheep, goats, one calf, and four horses.In 2002, some households in Suceava County were attacked by food-seeking wolves. In Alba County, because of the very low temperatures, hungry wolves came out of the forests looking for sheep in broad daylight, and they were even spotted on the outskirts of Alba Iulia city.In May 2002, in broad daylight, a pack of wolves attacked the animals owned by locals in a village in Neamt County, killing dozens of lambs and sheep. "The wolves have ended up eating even dogs in people's households," says a shepherd in the area. Also, as many as 60 sheep were killed by four wolves suspected of rabies in August 2002 in Salaj County.In October 2002, people who do animal husbandry in Alba County incurred losses because of the wolves, which had multiplied to an enormous number due to the heat in the preceding summer. 
Endangered species
Immediately after World War II, all the Romanian forests had wolves, the estimated number being 4,000. For lack of natural prey, the wolves caused severe damage among domestic animals. In the 1950s, a forceful campaign was launched to cut the number of wolves. In 1967, there were approximately 1,500 wolves left.According to official estimates, most of the wolves live in central and northern and now there are some 3,000 of them there.

Translated by Monica Voiculescu

by Florian Bichir