Europe, the birthplace of the “Little Red Riding Hood” legend and the Big Bad Wolf, is now home to twice as many wolves as the contiguous United States, a new study finds, despite being half the size and more than twice as densely populated.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, reports that Europe, one of the most industrialized landscapes on Earth, with many roads and hardly any large wilderness areas, is nonetheless “succeeding in maintaining, and to some extent restoring, viable large carnivore populations on a continental scale.”
A team of more than 50 leading carnivore biologists across Europe, from Norway to Bulgaria, details in the research a broad recovery of four large carnivore species: wolves, brown bears, the Eurasian lynx, and the wolverine.
“There is a deeply rooted hostility to these species in human history and culture,” the study notes. And yet roughly a third of Europe, and all but four of the continent’s 50 nations, are now home to permanent and reproducing populations of at least one of these predators.
So, what if European travelers suddenly stopped going to Yellowstone National Park to see grizzly bears and wolves, instead flocking to see even more of the same species in their own backyards—say, within an hour or two of Rome? What if the “call of the wild”—the sound of wolves howling in the night—became more a European than a North American experience? This improbable scenario may be closer to reality than we imagine.
An estimated 17,000 brown bears (Ursus horribilus, the same species as North America’s grizzly) now inhabit 22 countries—compared with just 1,800 grizzly bears in the U.S. Lower 48. (If you are in Rome, you can see them just two hours away, at Abruzzo National Park. For wolves, you need travel only about 40 minutes, to the vicinity of Hadrian’s villa.)