By Dr. Andrea Sibylle Claussen, August 20, 2020
Today I share with you my recent experiential journey in nature.
I was curious to find out how I would personally respond to untouched nature and wildlife right here in my home country, as part of my wilderness coaching programs take place in Africa. Under normal circumstances I would currently find myself in the bush or near the ocean. But due to COVID and the travel ban I was forced to look for new opportunities to do work closer to my German home with the advantage of not being in the dilemma of flying long distances and causing CO2 emissions which is not consistent with my passion for sustainability.
The biggest obstacle I was faced with, was to try and find a place in Germany that is still “wild”. I knew that this would be a challenge due to high level of urbanization and a mainly industrialized agricultural landscape.
So where could I find untouched wilderness in Germany?
For this journey I have set myself the following goal:
I wanted to deep dive into the realigning of the brains and I wanted to do that in unspoiled nature surrounded by wildlife.
My heart´s desire has always been to see wild wolves and I found out that wild wolves independently migrated back to Eastern Germany to an area called Lausitz around 1996 after having been hunted to extinction in Germany in the 1850s.
So, would I perceive wild nature and wildlife in Germany the same as in Africa?
And was I going to be lucky enough to hear the wolves howl at night? All I wanted is to track them by day and just loose myself in the raw simplicity of the wilderness.
The Lausitz region is located in the far East of Germany, close to the Polish border. It is in many parts still inaccessible due to the military restrictions associated with it, therefore making it safe for wolves to hunt and to breed. In this area, wolves mainly hunt deer and wild boar. Close to this area is the remnant of a coal mine that was closed 10 years ago after a landslide followed on by a flood wave that created a dangerous working environment for the miners and the mining area had to shut down.
These circumstances created the perfect solitary environment for wolves to return.
My curiosity about this didn’t stop here because I was very interested to find out how the local communities in the area felt about these wolves who were practically in their backyard.
I was told there was quite a bit of fear and even some hatred towards these animals and the protection groups lobbying for their safety.
The local people do not fear for their lives as much as what they feel that the wolves are a threat to their livestock. Especially the sheep. Wolves tend to stay away from people but take the opportunity to hunt easy prey like sheep.
This makes co-existing complicated. Because a wolf that does what he has evolved to do, cannot be classified as a problem wolf, nor can the farmer who tries to protect his sheep be called a heartless person.
Nonetheless, wolves are a protected species in Germany. And government has implemented a strategy to support the farmers whilst protecting the wolves. Farmers are given financial aid to fence in their sheep and are also compensated for if and when they lose sheep due to wolves. In return there is a no shoot policy, which means the farmers are not allowed to hunt or kill the wolves.
What is needed to maintain this positive but fragile co-existence is constant constructive communication and training for local people.
This so called “wolf-management” helps to prevent biased media reports fueling the conscious fear of the wild wolf. I found an article published only a few years back where the headline read: “When will the problem wolf get your child?”
In recent decades, wolves have been more closely monitored by organizations such as The LUPUS institute.
I was deeply impressed by our two guides Cati Blum and Stephan Kaasche from the LUPUS team. These guys are absolute experts in the field of wolf research in Germany and have been studying them since the first wolf was spotted in this region in the late 90s.
Their commitment for the wolves and their deep understanding of nature, the birds and all wild animals in the region and their tireless educational work on the subject inspired me deeply. Their job is to know exactly which wolf is in which area with how many pups and how many packs are currently in the wider region.
They also keep records of all wolf related incidents.
Yet, their resources are limited and as collaring wolves is expensive and the processing of data is time consuming and needs to be done over longer periods of time, they are unfortunately not able to track each and every wolf.
Hopefully there will be more substantial donations supporting these projects including more genetic research in the future. And I will do everything possible in my work to support these dedicated researchers.
Now that you know more about the history of where I went in search of theses wolves let me share what I experienced:
Early morning at 6:00. Kati picks us up at our Hotel “Zum Hammer” in Neustadt/Spree. I am so excited. We booked a full day with Kati and in the afternoon with Stephan Kaasche to search for the wild wolves.
We arrive at the observation viewpoint shortly after sunrise. A huge group of cranes just took off and flew overhead. I am getting goose bumps. We ARE in nature and so blessed to be here early morning to observe nature.
It is right here 10 years ago, where the landslide took place. I am overlooking the old mining grounds. I discover a truck still half sunken into the ground as a memorial of the incident where fortunately no person died.
If it wasn’t for the lignite power plant's cooling towers at the back of the horizon, I could make myself believe that I am in the African bush overlooking a water hole.
Another group of cranes flies past and as I watch them move off I wonder to myself: Will we see or hear a wolf today?
Because of the mining accident no one is allowed to enter the area in front of us, which is of course a huge plus for the wolves who now call this place home.
While we carefully scan the area between the forest and the beginning of the meadow with our binoculars, I notice how the scene I am experiencing, touches my soul deeply on various levels:
I am aware of the fact that this area was once natural but now it lays barren and void of its once lush properties because of the human desire for civilized prosperity, ill-gotten on the broken back of all that is natural. Most of society, even today is still reliant on fossil fuel energy and coal mining. These actions have created a deep wound around the globe. Wounds like this one.
But I realize, that this earth “wound” can heal - and that nature has a tremendous way of restoring itself - if we as humans just allow it to do so.
In this context it is really important to remember: nature has an innate ability to regain vitality and re-balance if we do not intervene. The resilience of nature is absolutely amazing.
This was such a surprising insight to me and it had a profound impact on the rest of my stay. Bathing a little longer in the beauty, I realized that this insight was still crowded with pollution all around. I also had a deep realization that it will need time. Yet my doctors mind could already see and feel that the healing process of this nature area has started. And the earth will eventually be healthy again.
It was time to move on. My heart was pounding from excitement as we tracked the wolves an entire day. I felt such rush of life cursing through my veins every time we encountered some fresh tracks or excrement. We walked for hours in the forest and later spent hours at a lakeside where deer showed up at dawn. I was so unsure of what to expect from the search for the wolves. I made myself ready to get just a glimpse of them or perhaps hear them howl. But, nothing happened. No sighting, no howling. I should have been disappointed right? I mean I came to see the wolves, and experience them and find out more about them. Yet, I was not disappointed at all. In fact, my spirits were lifted and I felt an incredible gratitude and happiness. Because what I have found in those forests and lakesides beyond the old mining shafts was of incredible worth: Beauty in recovering landscapes, cranes, amazing birds, deer. And looking at the wolf tracks, I found an innate confirmation that even here, in Germany the wildlife has the ability to reconnect humans with themselves and with nature. I felt deeply moved and reiterated my coaching method of teaching humans in nature how to realign and reconnect with the essence of wilderness. I would have loved to have taken a photo of the wolves with my newly aquired 100 400 telephoto, but suddenly that didn’t seem that important to me anymore. What became more important was that I wanted to take time…more time in nature.It did not matter whether I saw a wolf, a deer, a dragonfly, a swan or a grasshopper over the course of these days. It all had the same impact on my being. Nor did I care much about whether Africa and Germany would give me the same type of experience, as both had their own unique language and I came to enjoy both equally much. I could let go of the desire to control all the outcomes and instead be fully present to experience and express from deep within. Upon leaving, I was informed of some really great news: the female wolves have between 5 and 10 pups each May. This show cases a high level of reproduction which attests to the fact that these wolves feel safe and comfortable in this area.
And one question still remained…Why are we so fascinated by wolves?
Many books have been written about them, much folklore has been crafted around them. Maybe because the wolf is an untamed, wild and free species, independent, sometimes lonely and vulnerable?
What do you think?
When I came home, I decided to connect more with recovering landscapes. Why always search for untouched nature with the risk to destroy it? Why not connecting more with nature that is in process of recovery with wildlife settling and supporting eco-tourism and local businesses who facing a huge industrial transformation? Lausitz is just the beginning of this journey…
If you are inspired and you can't go to the Lausitz in the near future – maybe you put it on your travel bucket list – and in the meantime you could consider doing the following experiment:
Wake up early in the morning. Sit on a bench in the forest. Get quiet. And then watch and listen. You will see that the moment you become quiet, wildlife gets louder around you. Stay curious and enjoy what happens at any moment.
By the way, Stefan Kaasche inspired me to download an app to identify bird songs. It's really fun. Try it out.
You can listen to this blog in my podcast