Offside: The last wolf of Flanders

Summary

A STAM worker recently made a surprising discovery in the city museum's storeroom

Bounty animals

Did a worker in the STAM city museum in Ghent discover the remains of the last surviving wolf in Flanders? Flemish science magazine Eos reports that a member of the museum’s staff found the mummified paw of an animal in the storeroom. There was no identifying document for the item.

Genetic testing showed that the foot was that of a wolf, and that the paw had at one point been nailed to a wooden door. In the past, a premium was paid to anyone who killed a predatory animal such as a wolf. (Our ancestors were rather less concerned with issues of biodiversity, being more worried about their sheep being carried off.)

Proof of the kill was a right front foot, and the foot found at STAM just happens to be the right forefoot of a wolf. The trophies taken from bounty animals, it seems, were routinely nailed to the door of the Gravensteen in Ghent, the former castle of the counts of Flanders, as a way of demonstrating to the public that the authorities were doing everything necessary to keep them and their sheep safe. 

All right, but what’s to suggest it’s the last wolf in Flanders?

The last recorded wolf in what is now Flanders dates to the 18th century. It was killed in Knesselare, East Flanders, in 1736, and a premium was paid out by the Gravensteen. According to carbon dating carried out on the STAM paw, that animal was killed in about 1700. Given the margin of error, that means the STAM wolf could be, if not the very last, then certainly one of the last, to be recorded in Flanders.

The wolf paw will be on display at STAM this summer before being returned to the storeroom. 

Photo by Gunnar Ries/Wikimedia Commons

A STAM staff member recently made a surprising discovery in the city museum's storeroom.

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