AS most people polish off the last of the turkey, North East experts have found out the preferences of wild wolves when it comes to what meat to eat.
Scientists from Durham University, in collaboration with the University of Sassari in Italy, have discovered that the diet of wolves was consistently dominated by wild boar, which accounted for about two-thirds of total prey, with roe deer accounting for around a third.
The findings have implications for wildlife conservation as the impact of changing predator numbers on prey species is important for managing populations of both.
They also feed into the debate about whether wolves will ever be reintroduced to the UK.
Durham University study co-author Dr Stephen Willis said: “Wolves were hunted to extinction in the UK, probably by the end of the 17th Century.
“Our findings from Italy suggest that if they were reintroduced into an area with a healthy hooved animal population, their impact on livestock could be minimal.”
Woodlands in the study area in Tuscany, Italy, support populations of roe deer and wild boar, and are also grazed by sheep, goats and cattle.
However, wild boar and roe deer made up over 95% of wolf diet in the study area, with very little evidence of livestock predation.
Study lead author Miranda Davis, from the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Durham University, said: “Our research demonstrates a consistent selection for wild boar among wolves in the study area, which could affect other prey species such as roe deer.”
In Europe, the wolf is recovering from centuries of persecution and the expansion of wolf populations has the potential to change the ecology of communities of hooved animals by exposing them to natural predation by wolves, according to the researchers.
Durham co-author Dr Phil Stephens said: “Wolves and brown bears are gradually returning to their former strongholds in Europe. Understanding the needs of these species, as well as their potential impacts, is going to be fundamental to managing that welcome return.”