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Carnivore Comeback: Wolves, Bears and Lynx Thrive in Europe

Despite having half the land area of the contiguous United States and double the population density, Europe is home to twice as many wolves. A new study finds that Europe's other large carnivores are experiencing a resurgence in their numbers, too — and mostly in nonprotected areas where the animals coexist alongside humans.

The success is owed to cross-border cooperation, strong regulations and a public attitude that brings wildlife into the fold with human society, rather than banishing it to the wilderness, according to study leader Guillaume Chapron, a professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences' Grimsö Wildlife Research Station. In Europe, "we don't have unspoiled, untouched areas," Chapron told Live Science. "But what is interesting is, that does not mean we do not have carnivores. Au contraire; we have many carnivores." [Images: Carnivores of Europe]

Chapron and his colleagues pulled together data from all over Europe — excluding Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — on the population numbers of brown bears (Ursus arctos), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), wolverines (Gulo gulo) and gray wolves (Canis lupus). Their results, published Thursday (Dec. 18) in the journal Science, reveal that large carnivores in Europe are doing very well.

3 Bear Cubs Rescued From Captivity 0:24

With the exception of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, every European country in the study has a permanent and reproducing population of at least one of the four large carnivores, the researchers reported. The continent is home to 17,000 brown bears in 10 populations spread over 22 countries. There are 9,000 lynx in 11 populations in 23 countries. Wolves are thriving, with more than 12,000 individuals found in 10 populations in 28 countries.

Wolverines can live only in the cold climates of Scandinavia, so Norway, Sweden and Finland are the only countries in the study that host all four of Europe's major large carnivore species. There are two populations of wolverines in Europe, with an estimated total of 1,250 individuals. (However, wolverines do face threats from climate change, due to their cold-dependent lifestyles.)

This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.

— Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience contributor

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