Nature-compatible wolf tourism as a chance to create acceptance
Location: Lausitz – Germany,
Story by: Stefan Kaasche
About 150 years after the wolf’s extinction in Germany, pups were born again in 2000 on a military training area in the Lausitz. Previously, individual wolves had migrated to Germany on their own from neighboring Poland, thus setting the starting point for the return of the species. Since then, they have been settling in ever greater numbers and in more and more regions in Germany. Due to the long absence of the wolves, not all people are prepared for their return, so there is still a lot of potential for conflict. One of those who brings the world of wolves closer to the people is the nature guide and wolf expert Stephan Kaasche.
There are now almost 128 wolf packs living in Germany. These are spreading more and more in all federal states. Besides those who are afraid of the animals, there are also some who want to experience the animals up close and learn more about them. Thereby it has already come to dangerous observations on military training areas by interested people. On these areas often lie old ammunition residues and there is danger to life. Others penetrate without permission into protected areas, which serve the animals as retreat. Thus they make themselves not only punishable, but disturb the wolves in their natural environment.
Meanwhile, however, there are also guided wolf tours in Germany. One who has specialized in it is Stephan Kaasche. He is a freelance nature guide, has been giving lectures and offering guided excursions for 16 years. He has been following the story of the Lusatian wolves from the beginning. In the many years that Stephan Kaasche has been pursuing his profession in the wolf area, he has learned more and more, especially the practical handling of the subject of wolves, such as the procedures for wolf sightings and tears or the teaching of behavioral tips for wolf encounters.
“My main activity is to offer lectures and excursions for the Saxon wolf management in the context of public relations. Information about wolves – experiencing the wolf habitat and the tracks of the Lusatian wolves with a targeted visitor guidance are in the foreground of my offer.”
With the provider wolfland tours interested people have the opportunity to dive into the world of wolves and accompany the scientific work of wolf biologists on site. On the excursions one experiences, what wolf protection in Germany means and gets current information to the wolf research from first hand. There is a choice of ready-made or individual tours as well as seminars, which usually last between one and three days. A group consists of six to eight people and they are accompanied by knowledgeable biologists and wolf experts who have lived and worked in the wolf area for years. Stephan Kaasche offers tours for every age group. Often there are groups of children or families, but also school classes, hunters, scientists and all those who are simply interested in the wolf and its habitat. In addition to the search for wolf tracks and looses, a lot of knowledge about the predators is imparted and in rare cases it is also possible to get to see a wolf.
“Actually, I only get positive feedback on my tours, though of course this is also related to people’s attitudes. If you firmly expect to see a wolf, then of course you are disappointed when you don’t get to see one.”
Stephan Kaasche feels it is important to emphasize that there is no guarantee of a wolf sighting and that it only happens in rare cases.
“If you do see one, it’s usually very briefly, such as it running across a field or clearing.”
His tours are more about imparting knowledge about the wolf and its habitat. The focus for Stephan Kaasche is to convey his content factually and according to the latest research. For it he works in the close contact with different Wissenschftler:innen. During the excursions, data is also collected, including wolf sightings, but also samples such as feces or hair, which are important for genetics. The participants learn how wolf monitoring is practiced in Germany. All usable data will be made available afterwards e.g. to the LUPUS Institute for scientific work. Thus, the excursions also actively contribute to wolf research.
The risk that the wolves get used to the presence of people and thus lose their shyness does not exist, according to Stephan Kaasche.
“During the excursions, we always just walk along the paths and we don’t leave them.”
All participants of the excursions have to stay on the trails or paths, so there is no cross-country walking. The presence of humans in these cultural landscapes is nothing new for the wolves and they basically avoid contact. It is important not to penetrate further into their retreat areas and thus disturb the animals.
In addition to the providers of the wolf tours themselves, a region can also profit from wolf tourism. Although no concrete positive effects can be measured, it is an attraction for tourists of the region in general, as well as for people who travel to the wolf areas only because of the wolf excursions.
Tourism is an activity that can bring society closer to large carnivores and increase the real knowledge on the species among citizens. When the participants observe these animals in the wild, a bond is created and the awareness of the needs and the lifestyle of the animals is rising. For some, this experience is a dream come true. There are a lot of different activities that can be offered: photo tourism, talks, field trips with biological materials (skulls and skins), tracking courses or observation trips. Also a visit to a shepherd and other people who have historically shared the territory can be arranged to let the public know.
The guided, nature-compatible wolf tourism has the potential to bring people closer to the wolf and its habitat and possibly also to reduce fears and prejudices through more knowledge. The wolf stands thereby in the focus as normal component of our flora and fauna in Germany. Stephan Kaasche is convinced that wolf tourism will grow in Germany in the coming years. There will be more offerers in different Lands of the Federal Republic, which will offer excursions approximately around the wolf. It is important that valid rules and laws are kept there also, in order not to disturb the animals under nature protection in their habitat. The fact that a coexistence between humans and large prey-predators is possible, shows itself e.g. at small localities in Germany, in which already wolf and humans live peacefully together. There, the animals are seen and accepted as part of nature.
A final important aspect is that the field trips contribute to wolf monitoring, as the data collected on the tours can be further used for research purposes. Only through a solid data base, collected by means of monitoring, an efficient management of wolves in our cultural landscapes can be achieved. This contributes significantly to the creation of coexistence between humans and the large predators.