Initially the joint history of wolves and humans was of a generally positive nature. Cave paintings show that humans already started to take an interest in wolves and watch their behaviour possibly as early as 50,000 years ago. Scientists assume that humans already raised the first wolves and held them as domestic animals 14,000 to 16,000 years ago. This marks the beginning of the dog's success story as the first animal to be domesticated by humans.
In distant epochs and cultures, stories about wolves often reflect the human image of nature, animals and themselves. Hunter and gatherer societies were usually characterised by peaceful coexistence between wolves and humans. The wolf was admired as a skilful hunter and served as a role model in terms of its social character. Some North American native Indian tribes considered the wolf a brother and the animal was deemed powerful and wise.
The wolf was even assumed to have been the tribe's forefather or foremother in some clans. Here it was a symbol of creation. According to legend, some cultures such as those of the Turkmen, Uzbek, Huns and Turks, derive their origin from the wolf. The history of the Mongols sees a wolf as being the creator of the great Genghis Khan.
The figure of the wolf also features often in myths about the ancient Greeks' gods as well as in Germanic and Norse mythology even though this role is somewhat controversial.
It was only when people began to engage in husbandry that their attitude towards wolves changed fundamentally and the wolf became the symbol of evil in our culture. Central Europe had stable wolf populations until the early Middle Ages. The increasing clearing of woodland and keeping of grazing livestock initially led to a growing population of the highly adaptable open-land predator since easily accessible prey became available. Even if a wolf attack on valuable livestock was a serious threat to many farmers, intensive hunting was still at a low level as the farmers had no appropriate means and hunting was the feudal lords' privilege. With the beginning of open husbandry and the use of forest pastures at the end of the medieval period, where the cattle were herded into the forest and let loose to fatten up on acorns and beechnuts, livestock losses grew because they were totally unprotected. The attitude of the people was increasingly characterised by fear. The prevalence of rabies all over Europe contributed to this. The viral disease, which is usually spread by saliva when an infected animal scratches or bites another animal or human, causes an almost always deadly inflammation of the brain. Typically, the virus is transmitted by foxes, bats, larger rodents and raccoons, but also by wolves, cats and dogs. Many attacks of wolves on humans in the former centuries were due to this disease, which usually led to the death of the infected person. Since Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine in 1885, the disease has become preventable if the vaccine is administered promptly after exposure. Germany was declared rabies-free in the year 2008.
The growing fear and opposition led to an organised fight against wolves as of the 15th century. In the 16th and 17th century, wolf hunting reached its climax. Due to large-scale driven hunts and the payment of bounties for killed wolves (especially for young animals), the wolf population was greatly reduced in large parts of Central Europe and gaps developed in the once continuous distribution area. The hunting methods used (such as traps, trapping pits, poisoned bait, encircling the pack with fladry) were directly aimed at eradicating the predator. During and after military conflicts such as the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) as well as the plague epidemics from 1624 to 1626 and from 1636 to 1638, the wolf population grew again for some time because the hunting intensity declined due to the fact that many people died. Nevertheless, the wolf was already no longer among the resident wildlife in large parts of Germany as early as around 1750. Individual wolves were killed in the subsequent decades. The probably last German wolf was hunted down near Trebendorf (Muskau Heath, Saxony) in 1845.
Since that time, wolves migrating from the east have been appearing in Upper Lusatia every now and then. These animals were also hounded and killed without exception. Known examples of this practice are the "tiger of Sabrodt" (1904) and the "strangler of Lichtermoor“ (1948).
Also after the foundation of the German Democratic Republic, where wolves could be hunted all year round, wolves occasionally migrated from the east. At least 28 wild wolves have been shot since 1948. After the reunification of Germany in 1990, the wolf was classified as a protected wild animal over the entire territory of Germany. Ten years later, the first wild wolf pups were born in 2000 (Chronology of the recolonisation of wolves).
The tiger of Sabrodt
The probably best known wolf story in Upper Lusatia is that of a wolf featuring under the name "the tiger of Sabrodt" in the newspapers. In around 1900, deer and other game kills found in the forests surrounding Hoyerswerda indicated the presence of the wolf. Initially, an escaped circus animal was suspected of the killings because wolves had not been present in the region for a long time. A bounty that was very high for those days was offered for the killing of the wolf. Despite many people pursuing the wolf, they did not succeed in getting hold of it over a long period so that the wolf was able to live a quiet life and became the subject of many legends. On 27.02.1904, a forester from Weißkollm finally killed the male animal with a weight of 41 kg. A daily newspaper published on 28.02.1904 reports about the shot: "...though the animal was wary and fast it could not escape. After being detected several times recently, the forester Mr Dommel reported sure indications of the animal's presence to the royal forest warden's office in Neustadt on Saturday. The police organised a hunt immediately. Thanks to the freshly fallen snow, the hunters could easily track the animal down. Numerous carriages allowed the hunters and drivers to follow the tracks quickly so that the wolf could be encircled in the forest ground of Tschelln in the afternoon. The senior forester Mr Dutmer-Bohla had a chance to shoot. He wounded the animal but obviously not deadly as he shot from a large distance. The wounded beast turned towards an open area where the forester Mr Brehmer from Weißkollm successfully hit the animal from a distance of around 30 meters. The animal continued escaping into a close thicket where it was soon found dead."
The hunting magazine Game and Hound of 1904 writes:
"For 100 years no wolf has been shot in Lusatia, in the heart of Germany. But today or in fact on 27.02.1904, such a beast which had evidently lived there for five years was killed in this area. ... It is unforgivable that four years had to pass before this devil was stopped. Thank God, it's over now. Our stock of game will soon reflect this success..."