Conservationists in Berlin have sighted a pack of wolves and their cubs just 25km south of the German capital for the first time in more than 100 years.
The German office of the World Wildlife Fund said yesterday farmers had alerted its field workers to a wolf pack which appeared to have moved into a deserted former Soviet army 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 such a large city is the first since Germany's 1990 reunification. Arnold said the areas of largely uninhabited forest in the surrounding state of Brandenburg and plenty of wild game were decisive factors.
"Anywhere a wolf finds peace and quiet and food offers the animals good living conditions," he said.
Since 1990 the number of wolf packs, with two parents and usually cubs aged up to 2, is estimated to have risen to 14 and are mostly in the former communist east.
Arnold said fear of wolves was unjustified as the animals were reclusive and shy of humans.