Monitoring wolf populations based on snow tracks

Monitoring of large carnivore populations based on snow tracks was carried out over a five-year period in counties where wolf is distributed and which have snow cover during winter. During the monitoring period, observers were entrusted with making several trips to their designated field area (hunting grounds and protected areas) on the morning after the first snowfall and recording all observed wolf tracks in the snow. Observers were required to map all found and monitored tracks, and to record data on special forms on the time and place tracks were found, type of animal, length and direction of monitored track and the number of animals leaving tracks (the tracks should be followed until it is possible to determine the number of animals leaving tracks). During winter 2011/2012, this monitoring activity was organised by Josip Tomaić of the Velebit Nature Park for the broader Mt. Velebit area. The Institute created and maps and forms for observers. All together, 13 observers search a total of 41.8 forest roads and recorded 17 cases of wolf presence. The compilation and analysis of that data indicated that there is one pack, the Krasno pack, present in the northern Velebit area, which corresponds to previous telemetry results. During the monitoring activities, tracks of a solitary wolf were also found. In the central Velebit area there is another pack, which consisted of six members during winter 2011/2012.

Despite the fact that the culling of wolves is permitted, with the note that participation in monitoring activities is compulsory, in general, there was no response from those hunting grounds were wolves were culled. Therefore, in 2012, the relevant Ministry prescribed this as an obligation by virtue of a Decision. Based on the obligations from point 2 of the Decision of the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection for the culling of wolf individuals, Class: UP/I-612-07/12-48/39, Reg no: 17-07-1-1-12-01 of 1 October 2012, all hunting ground managers involved in the culling of wolf are obliged to participate in activities to monitor large carnivore populations based on snow tracks, and to submit report on activities conducted to the State Institute for Nature Protection and the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection. Approximately 90% of hunting ground managers abided by this decision.

Monitoring activities in 2012/2013 were also organised for the broader Velebit area, with the participation of the staff of Northern Velebit National Park and Velebit Nature Park. The activities were also coordinated by Josip Tomaić of Velebit Nature Park, with the participation of eight observers.

The wolf population trend in the investigated area was negative, which can also be said for the previous period since 2010. Prior to this period, the trend was positive or in stagnation. This conclusion is based on the snow tracks, year-round monitoring and data collection (droppings, tracks, prey remains, visual confirmation and howling). For the past two years, the number of tracks has been much lower, despite greater efforts invested by observers. These data indicate that the Krasno pack has been significantly weakened, and now consists of 4–5 individuals, unlike the 8 or more individuals it previously had. In comparing data obtained from photo-traps and data from droppings, it was determined that most often animals travel in pairs or even singly, while in early February 2013, movements of a maximum of four wolves were recorded.