Wetenschap - 10 april 2020

Veluwe wolf is a scavenger too, shows PhD research

tekst:
Marieke Enter

Footage from one of the PhD student Elke Wenting’s monitoring locations casts new light on the behaviour of the Veluwe wolf. Not only does it confirm that the wolf really does eat carrion, but it also shows it patiently waiting its turn until a wild boar has eaten its fill.

No doubt about it: at Wenting’s observation location, the wolf is eating from a deer carcass

Wolves are not really seen as scavengers, but more as the providers of carrion. Yet at the Veluwe locations where Wenting and Bart Beekes of ARK Nature Development had positioned cameras, it is crystal clear that ravens, foxes, wild boar and a wolf feasted on the carcass of a red deer. The footage also shows how the wolf, probably the central Veluwe she-wolf GW960f, avoids any risk of confrontation with a male wild boar eating from the carcass by waiting patiently at a distance.

Quite a stir

The now released video footage caused quite a stir among the forest rangers in the area. ‘Although the wolf is at the top of the food pyramid, its role in this situation is different. Here it is very clear that even among scavenger there is a kind of pecking order, in which each species knows its place,’ says Laurens Jansen, a park ranger with nature management organization Staatsbosbeheer, in his blog

Nutriënts

Wenting is doing doctoral research on the role of dead animals in nature. More specifically: on whether carrion and carrion-eaters speed up the nutrient cycle, thus benefitting biodiversity. Using methods including soil sampling and studying sections of carcasses, she researches exactly how the breakdown processes work. By installing wildlife cameras at several locations, Wenting aims to clarify the role played by the various scavengers in this. She reports on her research in a very engaging fashion on Instagram: @scavenging_project.

Habitat
The return of the wolf to Dutch nature areas is very significant for the topic Wenting is researching. A wolf eats about three to four kilos of meat, bone marrow and organs such as heart and lungs per day. On the Veluwe, the wolf kills mainly large hoofed animals such as roe deer, red deer and wild boar – one every three to four days. That makes the wolf a major supplier of carrion in this area. And its territory is expanding: recent sightings show that the wolves are exploring an ever larger area. They have already been spotted on the South Veluwe, on the North Veluwe near Heerde, and on the eastern side of the North Veluwe near Emst. DNA analysis is under way with a view to answering the question of exactly which wolf or wolves we are talking about. The results are expected next month.