Česká verze

A wolf hit by car on the D1 highway

Surprising results of the genetic analysis

24.3.2017, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnutí DUHA), Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic (AOPK ČR), Charles University in Prague

At the beginning of March, a wolf was killed on the D1 highway in Havlíčkův Brod area. The animal was found dead in a field at the hundredth kilometre of the highway near the village Skorkov. The incident re-opens the question of wildlife-friendly road construction which would take into consideration the needs of wild animals to move freely through the landscape.

The body of carnivore was found by a local inhabitant Václav Pinkas, who informed Friends of the Earth CZ via our Facebook page Protection of large carnivores. Because the photograph he took with his mobile phone suggested that the animal might have been a wolf, local zoologists - Václav Hlaváč of the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic and Pavel Hulva of the Faculty of Science at Charles University - arrived the next day to check the finding at the site.

A wolf killed on the D1 near Skorkov. Photo: Pavel HulvaA wolf killed on the D1 near Skorkov. Photo: Pavel Hulva

The experts have confirmed that the dead animal was indeed a male wolf - weighing about 40 kilograms - and collected samples for genetic analysis to determine the origin of the carnivore. It was assumed that the animal was related to the Central European lowland population with the core in Germany and western Poland, which also extends into the Czech Republic. The home districts of the nearest wolf packs in the Broumov and Podbezdězí regions lie about 130 kilometres as the crow flies from Skorkov.

Scientists were therefore surprised when the genetic analysis of obtained tissue revealed that the wolf came from the Carpathians. It means that the animal must have travel several hundred kilometres from its birthplace. Such long journeys are not uncommon for young wolves in search of a new territory, particularly in spring.

A recent study shows that the expansion of Carpathian wolf population is significantly limited by poaching as well as legal hunting in Slovakia, while wolves in Germany and Poland are thriving due to the year-round protection. All the more surprising is that the animal came from the Carpathian region.

The body of the dead animal was examined at the Faculty of Science at Charles University in Prague. The genetic analysis was performed by the zoologist Pavel Hulva who explained:

"Genetic analysis confirmed that the carnivore killed on the D1 was definitely a wolf. Comparison with the databases of several hundred animals from Central Europe showed that the individual came from the Carpathian population. Its mitochondrial DNA (inherited in maternal line) carried the variant which is most commonly found in wolves from central and western Slovakia and Polish Beskidy. On the contrary, this variant does not occur in the so-called Central European lowland wolf population that inhabits western Poland and Germany and also includes the packs in the Podbezdězí and Broumov regions of the Czech Republic. The analysis of nuclear DNA also confirms the Carpathian origin of the animal."

Zoologist Pavel Hulva is collecting a sample of tissue for genetic analysis. Photo: Pavel HulvaZoologist Pavel Hulva is collecting a sample of tissue for genetic analysis. Photo: Pavel Hulva

The wolf attempted to cross the highway a few tens of metres from the road bridge between the villages of Skorkov and Zbinohy. However, the motorway underpasses are not very popular with large carnivores, especially if the underpass serves primarily for motor vehicles, as is the case here. Wolves feel the need to cross the highway directly which, given the absence of wildlife overpasses and the heavy traffic on the D1, results in extremely dangerous situations.

The D1 highway creates a major obstacle for large mammals in the Czech Republic since the 1970s. Several attempts of crossing by the lynx and the European elk were also recorded here. Four years ago, an endangered Eurasian lynx was killed by a car at the 80th kilometre of the D1 near Koberovice in Pelhřimov area.

Many such collisions could be prevented by well-designed ecoducts which, however, are still few in the Czech Republic. Existing structures were mostly built without any consultations with wildlife experts and consequently are often located at places where they are not used by animals - such as all seven ecoducts at the Prague ring road. This contrasts with the complete lack of such structures in the areas where their benefit for the migration of large animals would be undisputable.

The site of the collision on the D1 near Skorkov. Map data: Mapy.czThe site of the collision on the D1 near Skorkov. Map data: Mapy.cz

In the Carpathians, the TRANSGREEN project was launched this January with the aim to contribute to safer and environmentally-friendly road and rail networks across the region.

Under the general agreement between the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Environment [2] in the context of the ongoing modernization of the D1 highway, two special ecoducts are to be built in the Vysočina region - one structure will be at the 94th kilometre, about 6 km west of the place where the wolf was killed last week.

It is possible that more wolves and lynx are present at the area. Conservationists and zoologists are currently focusing on their monitoring with more intensive camera trapping being planned. The public can report any sightings at www.mapa.selmy.cz or via the e-mail address stopy@selmy.cz.

Miroslav Kutal, large carnivore expert of Friends of the Earth CZ (Hnutí DUHA Olomouc), comments:

"In the last years, we recorded only sporadic visits of wolves near the Czech-Slovak border. All the more reason to regret the death of a young animal that could have formed a new pack in our country. It is necessary to carefully plan the development of transport infrastructure with regard to the safety of wildlife and drives.

One ecoduct located six kilometres from the collision site would probably not prevent the incident. If the deaths of critically endangered large carnivore species still occur after the completion of the D1 reconstruction, it will be necessary to further improve the landscape permeability for wildlife along the D1 highway. Any information we receive from the public on direct observations, animal prints or photographs of killed carnivores are extremely valuable and we really appreciate them. This data help us to piece together a map of the current expansion of large carnivores and to identify potential collision risk points in our highway system."

Václav Hlaváč, director at the regional office of the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic, the Administration of Žďárské vrchy PLA, explains:

"Monitoring the impact of the D1 highway on wildlife has been the focus of my work for many years now. In the past, we recorded regular elk migrations from Poland to southern Bohemia passing between Skorkov and the town of Humpolec. They too had to deal with the obstacle represented by the D1 highway.

A huge number of animals die each year on our roads and highways. Fencing off the highway is not a solution because this creates an impassable barrier for wildlife. Animals remain isolated in dwindling habitat islands which do not provide sufficient space for the long term viability of unconnected populations. The elk population in the southern Bohemia is an example of such an isolated population doomed to gradual extinction. The only option remains to ensure the landscape connectivity on both sides of the highway by constructing a sufficient number of overpasses and underpasses allowing the animals to cross the highway safely without the risk of collisions with vehicles.

Interestingly, another wolf was recorded in the spring of 2016 very near the place of this year's accident. We have a camera trap image of the animal which, according to the unconfirmed information from local people, was later also killed by a car. Information like this suggests the importance of the Vysočina highlands for the long distance migration of large mammals and also the incredible ability of wild animals to avoid being noticed by humans."

Pavel Hulva, associate professor of zoology and molecular ecology at the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, said:

"We conduct a long-term study of the wolf population structure during which time we have accumulated hundreds of samples and genetic profiles of animals from all over Central Europe. Based on the analysis of samples from a new area we are able to assign an individual animal to one of the known subpopulations and provide a valuable source of information on the spatial behaviour of the species. We are currently creating models to identify relationships between the genetic structure of large mammal species and the landscape characteristics. This approach allows us to objectively assess the influence of man-made structures on animal populations, their fragmentation and its consequences such as loss of genetic variability. Genetic analysis is also needed to determine the possible wolf-dog hybridization and rule out any confusion with a Czechoslovakian wolfdog.

If people alert us of the dead animal in time, as in this case, we are able to obtain fresh tissue for the analysis of entire genomes. Given the advances in technology, this method enables us to learn incredible details, for example on the species adaptation to environmental changes."



Miroslav Kutal, Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (local organization Olomouc), miroslav.kutal@hnutiduha.cz

Václav Hlaváč, Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic, vaclav.hlavac@nature.cz

Pavel Hulva, Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science, hulva@natur.cuni.cz

Jan Piňos, media and communications at Friends of the Earth Czech Republic (Hnutí DUHA), jan.pinos@hnutiduha.cz



[1] For example at D47 motorway or near Jablunkov: More at http://ekolist.cz/cz/publicistika/nazory-a-komentare/miroslav-kutal-ceske-ekodukty-jsou-spatny-vtip-za-verejne-penize (in Czech)

[2] Agreement between the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Transport on the modernization of the D1 motorway includes the construction of two ecoducts: http://www.env.cz/C1257458002F0DC7/cz/news_120524_d1/$FILE/Generalni%20dohoda.pdf (document in Czech)

Project TRANSGREEN: Integrated Transport and Green Infrastructure Planning in the Danube-Carpathian Region for the Benefit of People and Nature is co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, IPA) through the Interreg Danube Transnational Programme (DTP).


Translation from Czech press release: Martina Dušková


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