GOERLITZ, Germany – German police reached the accident to find what news stories would describe as a scene from a horror show: Seven horses, huddled on a small, dark, highway, had been ripped to pieces by two speeding cars. The drivers had been badly injured. Investigators found pieces of auto wreckage and horseflesh scattered around the site.
But the reason the December car wreck remained national news for weeks had only a little bit to do with the carnage. Instead, what’s made the accident the talk of Germany is its suspected cause: wolves, which reportedly spooked the horses into the paths of the oncoming cars.
It’s difficult to capture the fear and excitement that wolves generate in this country. The predator has played a role in many a German fairy tale, and for about 150 years it was considered extinct in Germany, hunted down and slain.
Now, however, wolves have made a comeback, growing over the last 20 years to a stable population of 35 packs, about 150 wolves in all. That’s set off a furor over whether Germany is big enough for both people and wolves. They’ve made regular headlines, been the subject of numerous television news programs and have been featured on popular police TV drama.
If the past is prologue, the future for wolves is not rosy.
Critics maintain that Germany is too densely populated for a large, wild carnivore to be allowed to roam freely. Fans and scientists say they’re simply part of the natural order.
The December accident shows how far apart the two camps are. The Hunters Association of Saxony says wolves caused the horses to flee their pen and head onto the road. “With great concern we are following the uncontrolled spread of the wolf,” the group wrote to the Interior Ministry.
Others doubt that wolves were involved. They note that no evidence of a wolf presence was found at the scene.
It’s hardly the first time Germans have voiced such fears. One need look no further than Grimm Brothers tales such as “Little Red Cap” — the Grimm version of “Little Red Riding Hood” — and “The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids.” In those tales, wolves were depicted as lethal and killed.
Zoologist Hermann Ansorge studies wolves at Goerlitz Senckenberg Natural History Museum and analyzes feces to determine what they eat.
“There is no human in the diet,” he said, smiling, then adding, seriously, “None.”