As organized persecution of wolves has eased, and as people continue to leave the European countryside for cities, wolves and other predators are wandering back to the countries that once exterminated them. Wolves from surviving populations in Italy crossed the Alps into southern France in the 1990s, and wolves from Poland took up residence in eastern Germany a few years later. In 2011, a Dutch mortician photographed a wolf crossing a road in the eastern Netherlands—the first verified sighting in the country in well over a century. In 2012, Danish officials confirmed their country’s first wolf sighting in 200 years, and last spring, researchers filmed a litter of wolf pups at play on the Danish mainland. Wolves have returned to the Scandinavian peninsula, too, and today, more than 400 wolves live in the unfenced forests of Sweden and Norway.
Europe is now home to an estimated 12,000 wolves, 17,000 bears, and 9,000 lynx, and wolf sightings have been documented in every country on the European mainland. Large predators provoke powerful emotions, and in Norway, where captive wolves are a beloved and lucrative tourist attraction, humans have greeted the returning wolves with both great joy and exceptionally furious resistance. The resulting conflict is testing humans’ ability to coexist with our fellow predators—and, along the way, our ability to coexist with one another.