NAYA, a female wolf, arrived in Belgium in January last year. She was the first wild wolf there in a hundred years. A male followed in August, the month for which he is named. He was seen bringing food to her. The pair had cubs together and she may have become pregnant a second time.
Born over 500km away, in eastern Germany, Naya was electronically tagged, but the batteries became exhausted. Five months ago, August stopped bringing food to the den; Naya had disappeared. The last footage of the pair together was recorded by night-vision cameras, on the Dutch border, in May.
With the profusion of cameras in Belgium, it’s considered highly unlikely that she is still alive. Belgium’s Nature and Forest Research Institute say it’s “virtually certain she that has been killed.” August has reverted to a ‘lone wolf’ lifestyle.
Foul play is suspected, but the evidence is circumstantial. “The death of the wolf and her pups is a shame for Belgium,” the local branch of the World Wildlife Fund has declared. €30,000 has been offered for information leading to her killers; a businessman contributed €10,000 towards it. Animal welfare organisations want hunting banned in the area where August lives.
Belgian hunters, however, say they are being made scapegoats. They say that the wolf’s body has not been found, nor is it known how she died. Field-sports organisations may sue two members of conservation groups for making unsupported allegations. The controversy has produced one positive result: police investigations of Naya’s disappearance have exposed other wildlife protection and poaching offences, which would not otherwise have come to light.
Persecution of wolves is not be confined to Belgium; according to a Guardian newspaper report, three of the 16 wolves seen in the Netherlands during the last four years have also disappeared.
Rats, wolves, and magpies inspire fear and loathing. The Irish ‘mac tíre’, ‘son of the countryside’, was a criminal outcast. Wolves were persecuted here; the last one is said to have been killed on Mount Leinster in 1786. Bears, however, are loved, despite the threat they occasionally present to people. Wolves don’t attack people, so why are attitudes towards them so negative?
Folklore abounds in Little-Red-Riding-Hood big-bad-wolf tales. The 18th century Beast of Gévaudan, which killed more than a hundred people in south-central France, was deemed to have been a wolf, although it was probably a lion that had escaped from a menagerie.
The real demons, in this sorry history, are a breed of people with a paranoid hatred of wolves. Three Toes, injured by a gin-trap in New Mexico, left a distinctive footprint. It took bounty hunters 13 years to track down and kill her. The year was 1925. Fifty years later, Las Margaritas, another gin-trap amputee, was pursued on horseback for eleven months by a tracker named McBride. She used to uncover the traps he had set and pee on them.
Then, McBride discovered her Achilles’ heel; she liked to roll in the warm embers of camp fires. He lit a fire with a spring trap under it. That was the end of poor Las Margaritas, the last wild wolf in the southern United States.
Will Naya be canonised as another wolf martyr?