Lars Burkert

October 2015 - June 2016
University Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Project at the WSC A comparison of agonistic behaviour during pack feeding in juvenile and adult wolves (Canis lupus) and dogs (Canis familiaris)

I spent two thirds of my life in Düsseldorf, where I earned my general qualification for university entrance. I knew that I wanted to work with animals since Primary School. In High School, biology was my favorite subject. “School subjects” and real scientific work aren’t the same and I wanted to be sure of what I wanted to do before majoring in Biology. So I joined the Hilden Technical College as a biological-technical assistant. I loved the two years of apprenticeship I spent there and successfully graduated as a Nationally Certified Biological-Technical Assistant. Later, I moved to Mainz for studying biology at the Johannes-Gutenberg-University. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree with a thesis about the influence of a climate gradient with different variables on the behavior of the North-American ant species Temnothorx longispinosus. During my master studies I specialized in evolution, ecology and animal behaviors. Before finishing my Masters’ Studies, I decided that I would like to study abroad for a couple of semesters. Since I am fascinated by wolves and dogs, I applied for a master student position at the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbunn. I am now writing my master thesis about the comparison of agonistic behavior during pack feeding in wolves and dogs at the WSC. We are recording the wolf and dog packs during feeding situations with different conditions. The conditions range from food, which can be easily monopolized, e.g. one big piece, to food, which can’t be monopolized at all, e.g. a lot of little pieces. Afterwards we analyze the behavior of each individual and compare wolves and dogs as well as juvenile animals with adult ones.

I like all the wolves and dogs at the WSC. Each one has a different personality. Amarok is the most fascinating wolf for me, because he is a little bit different from the others. It is normal for wolves to be neophobic, but Amarok doesn’t show any fear of new objects. On the contrary, he is very interested in them. Maybe wolves showed behaviors like him in the early days of their domestication. Of all the dogs at the WSC I like Panya the most, because she reminds me of my own dog at home who I miss so much.

I have been living at the WSC observing the wolves and their behavior at first hand for nearly two months. What I see assures me even further that wolves are very intelligent and highly social animals. They can solve complex problems and face new challenges. They also love to go on walks and see, hear and smell new things for a change. From time to time there is trouble in their packs, but this happens in every family and just like in most families, the wolves are able to solve them on their own. They care for their pack members and share their food with them. One may argue, that tamed, hand raised wolves can’t be compared to wild wolves. But wild wolves aren’t any less intelligent or social, only much shyer. It is true that wolves can damage domestic livestock a great deal, if it isn’t secured and guarded in the right way. This is however also a fault on the humans’ part, who domesticated and selected these animals for less defensive abilities and more yield. Humans are very adaptable, since hundreds of years they’ve selected and trained dogs to keep their distant relatives away. Wolves are nearly as adaptable as humans and have no need for untouched wilderness to survive. That is proven by the wolf packs in Eastern Germany, which live in military training areas or the devastated landscapes of the coal opencast mining. Wolves are strongly territorial and won’t accept foreign wolves in their territory and hence there can never be too many wolves in an area. Further they are very skilled in hunting old and sick animals, which keeps the population of prey animals healthy. They won’t attack strong and healthy animals, because the success chances are low and the risks of injury or death high. They are not rivals for human hunters, which are after the strong and big animals. It is my opinion that it is possible to live in peace with the wolves in our forests, if we just put a little bit of effort into the cohabitation of wolves and humans. They are worthy of our protection and help keep the ecosystem of the forests in balance. I hope my work will help to gain a better understanding of wolves and I will be very glad, if it contributes to their protection.