Wolves in Belgium – History and Resurgence

wolves belgium

In 2018, a noteworthy event captured the attention of Belgians and wildlife enthusiasts alike: a wolf sighting in the northeast province of Limbourg.

The sighting marked the first confirmed presence of a wild wolf in Belgium in over a century.

It opened conversations about conservation efforts, habitat preservation, and living with species that had been absent for generations.

In this article, we’ll discuss the historical presence of wolves in Belgium, including their recent appearance, conservation efforts, and related concerns.

The Historical Presence of Wolves in Belgium

wolf lying ground
Wolf lying on the ground

Wolves were once a common sight in Belgium, roaming freely across the county’s forested landscapes and contributing to the balance of its ecosystem.

They were even held in high regard in the Middle Ages due to their symbolic importance in local folklore and mythology.

But as decades turned into centuries, and human populations and agricultural activities expanded, wolves transitioned from revered symbols of legends to threats to livestock and safety.

Sheep, calves, and goats rarely survived a night with wolves living in the vicinity, leading to significant losses for those who depended on these animals for food and work.

By the 19th century, Belgium had had enough.

Government-sanctioned hunting campaigns, as well as local efforts from farmers, doubled its efforts to eliminate the wolves by any means necessary.

There was no mercy: the wolves were hunted for sport, poisoned, and trapped to protect livestock and human interests.

In the 1890s, the last wolf in Belgium was shot by none other than King Leopold II—or so the story goes.

Habitat loss, intensive hunting, and aggressive eradication efforts took a great toll on the wolf population, driving them to local extinction within the country at the turn of the 20th century.

The Recent Resurgence of Wolves in Belgium

brown wolf
Brown wolf

For over a century, wolves were considered an afterthought: a distant memory of Belguim’s past, a mythical presence in old books and folklore.

But amid the hustle of modern life, the early 21st century saw the gradual emergence of reports and the occasional undeniable evidence of wolves—tracks in the snow, blurry images captured by remote cameras, etc.

However, these encounters were never confirmed and therefore not considered an official spotting.

That changed in January 2018, when a radio-collared wolf from Germany made its way into Flanders, one of Belgium’s three regions.

The two-year-old female, affectionately named Naya, was spotted near a military zone in Beringen in the province of Limburg.

A few months later, a male wolf was spotted in the High Fens of Wallonia.

And the sightings continued from there.

As of 2023, 15 to 25 wolves are believed to inhabit Belgium: one pack in Flanders and another in southern Wallonia.

Concerns on Public Safety & Livestock Predation

tan wolf flower field
Tan wolf on flower field

The gradual appearance of wolves in Belgium has sparked a lot of debate in the local community, especially in rural areas where livestock is widespread.

Despite their small numbers, dozens of sheep have already fallen victim to wolf predation, impacting the livelihood of agricultural communities.

The situation became so dire that it sparked various protests across the country, with 3,000 locals joining a demonstration in 2021.

People hung images of dead sheep on fences with the text, “This is the work of the wolf,” highlighting their frustration towards the predators.

Protesters didn’t hold malice towards wolves; on the contrary, they recognized their importance to the ecosystem. Instead, the protest was a message to the government.

Johan Schouteden, who lost dozens of sheep due to wolf attacks, told BBC News that he isn’t opposed to living with these predators—within reason.

“I want to live with the wolf,” he says. “As long as we get paid for all the extra labor and work we have to do to keep them at bay”.

Apart from the loss of livestock, Belgian citizens also feared for their personal safety.

Wolves are predatory creatures, and their presence in the landscape opens the possibility of human attacks.

While it’s true that wolves generally avoid humans and rarely pose a threat, they won’t hesitate to attack if threatened or if the opportunity presents itself.

Conservation Efforts for Wolf Population in Belgium

red and gray wolf
Red and gray wolf

Belgium made significant efforts to protect the wolf population and ensure their continued existence.

According to the European Wilderness Society, the government of Limburg passed some of the strictest laws ever seen to protect the wolves in the region.

Wolves are given the same protection as the European beaver and the otter.

Hunting of any kind is prohibited and poachers can face fines of up to €500,000 and jail time of five years.

Other measures are put in place, as well. Forest rangers—alongside inspectors from the Flemish Agency for Nature and Forests—would regularly monitor the wolves’ movements and behavior.

The government likewise implemented non-lethal strategies to safeguard livestock.

“Problematic” wolves can be shot at with paintball guns to re-associate people with danger, but anything more drastic can result in penalties.

The Future of Wolves in Belgium

wolf on snow
Wolf on snow

With careful management strategies and collaborative efforts in the local community, there’s growing optimism about the future of wolves in Belgium.

Experts believe that the wolf population will increase by at least 30% annually.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can you see wolves in Belgium?

You can see wolves in Belgium in the Liège Province of High Fens, the north of Limburg Province, and in southern Wallonia.

Which country in Europe has the most wolves?

Outside Russia, the countries in Europe with the most number of wolves include Italy, with around 3,300 wolves, Spain, with 2,000 to 3,000 wolves, and Romania, with 2,500 wolves.

As of 2023, Europe has around 17,000 wolves (excluding Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus).

What country in the world has the highest wolf population?

The country with the highest wolf population is Canada, with more than 50,000 wolves in its landscape.

Are there also bears in Belgium?

Yes, there are bears in Belgium, albeit seeing one is extremely rare. 

Brown bears—the second largest bear in the world—live in the northern parts of the country. 

Most of these bears come from neighboring countries. 

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