Česká verze

On the wolf track

8.3.2018, selmy.cz

There are several ways how we can learn about the secret life of large carnivores. In modern days, we use technology such as camera traps; we collect scat samples for genetic and diet analyses; or we can track the animal's exact location in the mountains using GPS telemetry. But to gain any true insight into the hidden life of wolves, lynx, and bears, we must follow their footsteps - quite literally. That's why every year I cannot wait for the winter to come with snow covering the mountains.

I set off to the Javorníky Mountains, as I often do, to take advantage of good snow conditions. Up on the ridge, the snow was knee deep. I did not walk for more than half a kilometre when I found frozen lynx tracks which I followed along a side ridge to the Slovak side of the mountains. Soon, though, I came across a fresh wolf track. The prints formed one straight line, like from a tracking manual. It occurred to me that exactly one year ago, I also tracked a wolf in this very mountains. I was happy that the wolf had stayed here. Moreover, this fact was confirmed by the information from camera traps that captured a female wolf over the course of the last year.

One wolf became two. Photo: Michal Bojda

I followed the track in the opposite direction to the movement of the wolf. After about a hundred metres, I found fresh scat which I collected for a DNA analysis. Then I set off in the opposite direction. I kept to the wolf track when suddenly, it became two tracks! Only then I realized that I had been tracking two wolves that walked - Indian warrior style - one after the other. A few hundred metres later, I found another scat sample, and for a good measure, two more at the edge of a forest road to which the wolves descended. They stayed on the road for a while before heading straight into the thicket, probably in search of prey. They checked out deer sleeping spots along their way. Having no luck finding a prey here, the wolves climbed back to the ridge. It is not uncommon for wolves to walk along the ridge; this time, however, they crossed to the other side and continued through a beautiful old fir-beech growth. At one point, the fresh wolf track I was following crossed an older lynx track. Suddenly, the track split into two again. It was clear from the prints that the wolves set off at a fast run down the hill. I soon found out why. They were pursuing a deer. The predators chased the deer down the hill and then through the forest across the slope. I was thrilled. How had the chase ended? For a while I thought that the deer had won, the wolves were persistent though. They followed their prey through thickets and tall tree stands. The deer turned once more down the hill. It tried to escape among the spruce trees uprooted by a recent storm. On one of the fallen tree trunks, I found the tuft of deer hair. From the prints in the snow, I learn that one wolf was on deer's heels while the other ran in parallel less than five metres away. The difficult terrain became deer's downfall in the end.

Two kilometres from the beginning of the chase, I found what seemed to be left of wolves' feast. Some hair and intestines, plenty of wolf tracks all around. "All that's left," I thought. But a short distance away, I found a trail that looked like a wolf had been dragging something up the hill. Following this unusual track, I discovered the remains of the deer. Perhaps, the wolves kept some food here for later. If they won't finish the meal, someone else certainly will: foxes or martens, possibly an eagle, a buzzard or wild boars. Within a week, the prey and all signs of it will be gone.

Camera trap of Vlado Trulík

Later, our Slovak colleague Vlado Trulík shared some camera trap images with me; I learned that a pair of wolves crossed the ridge at half past nine that morning. This would mean that they were hunting in broad daylight, almost at noon. The rule that wolves hunt mainly at dusk or dawn clearly does not apply without exceptions; if they are not disturbed by humans, the wolves can be active during the day too.

Camera trap of Vlado Trulík

Leaving wolf hunting grounds behind, I found the place where the wolves rested after their feast. On my way back, I saw a wolf track leading directly up to the top of a side ridge. There, the wolves crawled into a spruce thicket. I did not follow any further though as it was getting dark and a long way back awaited me. I walked through the still, snow-covered landscape bathed in the light of full moon. Just me and the wolves.






The project TRANSGREEN (DTP1-187-3.1-TRANSGREEN) is co-funded by the European Union through the Interreg Danube Transnational Programme (DTP), Priority 3 - Better connected and energy responsible Danube region, Specific objective - Support environmentally-friendly and safe transport systems and balanced accessibility of urban and rural areas.


Friends of the Earth are able to carry out projects on protection and monitoring of large carnivores thanks to generous support of individual donors – Friends of Large Carnivores. Please join us here.

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created by Michal Kandr