Naturalists in Berlin have sighted a pack of wolves and their cubs just 15 miles south of the German capital for the first time in more than 100 years.
The German office of the World Wildlife Fund said yesterday that farmers had alerted its field workers to the existence a wolf pack which appeared to have moved into a deserted former Soviet army military exercise area near the village of Sperenberg south of Berlin.
Janosch Arnold, a WWF wolf expert, told Berlin's Die Tageszeitung that naturalists equipped with infra-red night vision cameras had filmed the animals in the area overnight.
"There is definitely a wolf pack with cubs and they seem to be on top of the world," he said.
Germany's "last wolf" was reputed to have been shot and killed by hunters in 1904. In 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the animals were declared a protected species and the population began to grow again. Wolves were sighted in remote areas of eastern Germany after they entered from neighbouring Poland.
The discovery of wolves living and apparently breeding so close to a large urban conurbation like Berlin is the first since German reunification in 1990. But Mr Arnold said the areas of largely uninhabited forest in the surrounding state of Brandenburg and plenty of deer and wild boar were decisive factors.
"In principle, the whole of Brandenburg is attractive for wolves. Anywhere that a wolf finds peace and quiet and food offers the animals good living conditions," he said.
Since 1990 the number of wolf packs, comprising two parent wolves and usually cubs aged up to two years, is estimated to have risen to a total of 14 in Germany. Their presence is mostly confined to the former communist east. Mr Arnold said fear of wolves was unjustified as the animals were reclusive and shy of humans.