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An Expedition in Germany – Wolf Monitoring through Citizen Science


The wolf returned to Germany at the turn of the millennium. It continues to spread throughout the country. The non-profit citizen science and wildlife conservation organisation Biosphere Expeditions offers people from all walks of life the chance to support the monitoring of this species with an annual expedition in the state of Lower Saxony.

Story by

Matthias Hammer





Lüneburg Heath


Niedersachsen, Germany

Chapter 1

the idea

The return of the wolf to Germany is seen as a threat by many. The conversation is by and large dominated by vocal anti-wolf campaigners who invoke dangers instead of opportunities. This is something Dr Matthias Hammer would like to change. In his view, tourism and particularly citizen science tourism are an opportunity to protect endangered species such as sea turtles, elephants and wolves too. Based on 20 years of experience with large carnivore expeditions around the world, his non-profit organisation Biosphere Expeditions offered the first German expedition focused on wolves in Lower Saxony in 2017.

"Being a wolf country not only brings challenges, but also opportunities.”


Chapter 2


Once a year, the famously picturesque Lüneburg Heath becomes the place of work for German and international citizen scientists who join the expedition. Up to 12 participants from all over the world come together for a week to help collect important data and samples that are needed for official monitoring efforts. At the beginning of the expedition, citizen scientists are trained by researchers. They learn how to record wolf tracks and signs, such as scats (wolf droppings), following the stringent scientific protocol of the state's official wolf monitoring programme. After two training days, they then go out in small groups to gather wolf scats and record other wolf signs.

The expeditions are conducted in cooperation with the “Wolfsbüro Niedersachsen”, the Lower Saxony government institution responsible for wolf monitoring in the state, who defines areas of interest for the expedition and helps to train expedition participants. The expeditions are a way of supporting wolf conservation in Germany by funnelling money and resources into labour-intensive field research. Biosphere Expeditions guarantees that at least two-thirds of the participants’ fees go directly into the project and documents this, and the scientific work done, in the expedition report.

Citizen science

Citizen Science is defined as the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists. In wildlife conservation, the range of possibilities is huge, from ‘counting days’ where thousands of citizens report numbers of species, to more detailed tasks such as reporting animal sightings or helping to collect data in the field (with camera traps or personally). The strategy that works best depends on the data needed. To ensure the reliability of the data, citizen scientists need to be trained properly. Citizen science also offers opportunities in large carnivore monitoring – for example with an open reporting system on sightings or as described above.

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Species monitoring

The monitoring of certain species delivers a collection of relevant data about numbers and behaviours of individuals and populations. The knowledge about the development of a population delivers a reliable base for decisions about their management and allows a planning according to the actual circumstances. There is a range of monitoring methods as well as there are various technical systems to collect and store the data. One method to deal with the different categories of evidence is SCALP /with the categories C1, C2, C3). One scientifically proven tool to monitor large carnivores is the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART).

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Piotr Chmielewski


The number of wolves and lynx were assessed for whole forest complexes, not for particular administrative and economic units such as forest districts or hunting districts. Within the forest complexes, 70 inventory divisions were set up, including several forest districts and possibly a national park, separated from other parts of the complex by distinct natural or anthropogenic barriers, which could form the boundaries of the wolves and lynx territories. In each such area a coordinator was appointed, who directed the work of all units within its borders. Also in each superintendence and national park were people responsible for organization of counting and data collection. The inventory was based on two basic field activities: a year-long collection of all carnivores observations and coordinated winter traces. This was a non-binding measure implemented by Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences in the frame of National wolf and lynx inventory in forest superintendents and national parks in the whole country in the Instytut Biologii Ssaków Polskiej Akademii Nauk, ul. Stoczek 1, 17-230 Białowieża. It specifically involved Foresters, General public, Administrative staff (government). It operated for 12 years (from 2000 to 2012) and received partial financial support from Own funds, financial support of the.Please reply to this post for more information or reach out directly to Stefan Jakimiuk.

Piotr Chmielewski


Main project actions: 1. Population monitoring and scientific research on carnivores. During the winter there was intense tracking of wolves and lynx, and bear traces were also recorded. In the spring and summer, carnivores were found on walking transect networks. Carnivores, as well as all other traces of their presence - faeces, urine marking and scratching, remnants of prey, lairs - were recorded in databases of the same structure as the database of nationwide wolf and lynx inventory. 2. Prevention of damage caused by large carnivores in breeding livestock. 3. Conservation of habitats for large carnivores. Identification of young breeding and breeding sites, as well as bears, has allowed the development of recommendations and actions to protect the habitats of large carnivores in the region. 4. Education of the society. The Association for Nature Wolf ran various forms of education devoted to large carnivores. Between 1996 and 2013 more than 80 lectures, lectures and trainings were held, attended by more than 3,000 adults,pupils, and children from kindergartens. The Association also organizes Wolf Workshops, which train volunteers to help in collecting data about wolves in the field. 5. Rehabilitation of animals and restoring them to the environment. During the project several wolves and lynx were found, which required direct help. 6. Protection of transboundary populations. The study of the wolves in the Beskid Żywiecki has shown how important they are to the conservation status of this predator in the Polish Natura 2000 sites Based on the results of the research, The Association for Nature Wolf lobbied for a cross-border approach to the protection of common populations of large carnivores. This was a non-binding measure implemented by The Association for Nature Wolf in the frame of The protection of large carnivores in the Western Carpathians in a province in the Stowarzyszenie dla Natury Wilk, Twardorzeczka, ul. Cynkowa 4, 34-324 Lipowa. It specifically involved Beekeepers, Livestock risers, Foresters, General public, Administrative staff (government). It operated for 20 years (from 1997 to 2017) and received partial financial support from Own funds, EuroNatur Foundation (Gerrmany), International Fund for Animal Welfare (USA), Wolves and Humans Foundation (Great Britain) and own funds of The Association for Nature Wolf..Please reply to this post for more information or reach out directly to Stefan Jakimiuk.

Piotr Chmielewski


Information on the conservation status of wolves and lynx in the country, including information on population status, habitat assessment, population perspectives and overall conservation status of these species. Information gained from the comparative analysis of the results of this project with the results of other projects on the use of the most up-to-date monitoring methods, including the introduction of wolf genetic testing methods, and the coherence of the results of monitoring carried out under the National Monitoring of Environment with monitoring results at the level of Natura 2000 sites in the framework of the implementation of the conservation plans and security plans nature conservation authorities. This was a non-binding measure implemented by Polish Chief Inspectorate for Environmental Protection in the frame of Pilotage monitoring of the populations of wolf and lynx in Poland in the whole country in the the whole country - pilot ongoing project. It specifically involved Hunters, Foresters, General public, Administrative staff (government). It operated in 2017 and received partial financial support from EU funds, Project co-financed by EU funds under the Infrastructure and Environment Operational Program 2014-2020, within the framework of the 2nd Axis of Environmental Priority, including adaptation to climate change. Action 2.4 Nature protection and ecological education, implemented in the Environmental Monitoring and Information Department of the General Inspectorate for Environmental Protection..Please reply to this post for more information or reach out directly to Ing. Slavomir Findo CSc..



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Chapter 3


“Our citizen scientists help on two levels: by collecting valuable scientific data and through financing the project as a whole. The wealth of extra data our expeditioners collected shows how much citizen science can achieve and how much it is capable of adding to official wolf monitoring efforts.”

Although there were a lot of doubters before the first expedition, especially amongst the vocal anti-wolf lobby, the results exceeded all expectations. The data collected in 2017 helped to genetically identify one wolf pack and the expedition of 2018 doubled the official state wolf scat monitoring database. The participants’ work helped to gain important insights into wolf diet in the area. For example, no trace of livestock was found in the wolf scats collected. 

The success and the growing popularity of the wolf demonstrate that one perspective of the wolf debate in Germany is usually ignored: The fascination with the wolf is an opportunity for sustainable tourism in Germany and that the species is as interesting for people as are lions in Africa, elephants in Thailand and the brown bear in Sweden.

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An Expedition in Germany – Wolf Monitoring through Citizen Science


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