Today, genetic investigations are an important part of monitoring systems. The samples required (e.g. faeces, saliva samples taken from killed animals) can be collected irrespective of the time of the year.
A large part of the samples is collected in the form of fresh scat samples in the wolf country. Cells of the body (intestinal cells) that contain DNA adhere to these samples. Snow is ideal for collecting samples (urine marks, oestrus blood) from the holders of a territory. Blood, saliva or tissue samples taken from wolves found dead or caught alive as well as saliva samples from killed prey animals are used for genetic analyses too.
Genetic analyses have been performed in Saxony since 2002. In other German federal states where wolves have settled, genetics is normally one of the most important monitoring methods too. It provides a very detailed picture showing the wolves' distribution and family relationships as well as the potential risk of inbreeding.
Genetic analyses are especially important in regions where wolves are present across the whole area. As it is extremely difficult to tell individual wolves apart on the basis of their appearance, genetic analyses have to be performed in order to enable neighbouring territories to be distinguished.
In 2010, the Senckenberg Labor für Wildtiergenetik (Laboratory for Wildlife Genetics) in Gelnhausen (Hesse) became the reference laboratory for the whole of Germany. All genetic investigations have been carried out there since then.
Genetic investigation results
Initial genetic investigations showed that the Baltic wolf population in the northeast of Poland is the source population of the central European lowland population, also including the wolves in Germany. The founding pair of the first German wolf pack in the Muskau Heath, which gave birth to pups for the first time in the Upper Lusatia military training area in Saxony in 2000, descended from wolves having originally migrated from the northeast of Poland (Baltic population).
Newer genetic evaluations showed that many parent pairs in the Saxon wolf packs are close relatives. Most of the packs were founded by descendants of the two sisters FT1 ("Sunny", Neustadt, later on the Seenland wolf bitch) and FT3 ("Einauge" (One Eye), the former Nochten wolf bitch). Both are direct descendants of the Muskau Heath pack, Germany's first pack. Cousin-to-cousin mating occurred as well as uncle-to-niece mating. Only in the last two years was more evidence of wolves not descending from Saxon wolf families found. Some of these wolves had migrated from western Poland others from other German federal states. However, up to now, hardly any more migrants have arrived from the northeast of Poland (Baltic population), and there has not been any exchange with the Carpathian population either. (Please refer to Distribution in Europe)
In the course of genetic investigations, samples are also checked for evidence of mating between wolves and dogs. In 2003, the Neustadt wolf bitch (FT1, "Sunny") mated with a dog and had so-called wolf-dog hybrid pups which were a cross between wolves and dogs from a genetic point of view. Early in 2004, two of the four hybrid pups, which had survived up to that time, were caught. They were taken to a compound in the Bavarian Forest. Both of them, however, had to be put down within the following year due to injuries they had suffered there.
The other two hybrids have never been seen again and have not been verified by genetic samples either. Their whereabouts are unknown. For species protection reasons, it may be necessary to remove wild animal – domestic animal hybrids from nature in populations with a small number of individuals to prevent the domestic animal genes from spreading in the wild animal population. After 2004, no new evidence of wolf – dog hybrids has been found in Germany.