The wolf is marching back into western Europe. Now it has reached the tiny Baltic islands of Aland. It is protected by EU law – but who’s protecting the locals? Patrick Barkham reports
Earlier this year, two unexpected guests crossed the sea to reach the largest of the Åland Islands, an archipelago of 6,700 mostly tiny isles between Sweden and Finland. The long, hard winter had frozen the Baltic more extensively than for many a year. A daring few among 30,000 Åland islanders drove their cars over the ice to Finland. In the other direction came two or possibly three wolves.
Europe’s most feared carnivore was first seen padding over the sea ice by a ferry passenger in February. When islanders conducted their elk census during the March snows, they found wolf tracks heading west across the main island of Åland, a uniquely autonomous region of Finland. By the start of April a wolf had been sighted. By the end of the month, two were filmed together. In June a sheep was killed with ruthless precision, its skin covered in tooth marks – the work of a wolf, said experts. A few days later, a camera trap set over a carcass captured footage of the chief suspect returning to feed.