Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Dangerous Are Wolves and Do They Attack People?

Short answer: Of course wolves are dangerous, but in general only pose a threat to children wandering alone in fields and woods and then only rarely.

Read on...

I am one of those people with a natural fascination with wolves. I like wolf art. Judging from the amount of wolf pictures, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, figurines, and apparel out there, I am not alone in finding them appealing.

The attraction between humans and wolves began in prehistory. Our beloved dogs are descended from the wolf friends of our prehistoric ancestors around the world. The traits of the wolf are fundamentally appealing because of their similarities to human families and societies. The wolves rely on cooperation to raise their families. Loyalty and love define their interactions. Their physical beauty and cunning minds invite our respect. I admire the species for its powerful spirit.

And I fear wolves as well. Their lethal power cannot be ignored. I saw a captive wolf once. He was larger than I had imagined a wolf to be, although their sizes vary around the world.

To look upon him was a rare privilege, and he was terrifying to behold. Even in his cage, an ancient power lurked inside him, and I could feel it.

Not everyone likes wolves. Many people want wolves dead. They have a natural hatred for them. Historically wolves have been hunted down and exterminated. They were almost wiped out from North America. Efforts to reestablish packs in recent decades have met with success. Marked improvements in the ecosystem in Yellowstone National Park have been attributed to the return of wolves to that wilderness.

In the remote regions of my own state of Michigan, wolves have been returning to lost ranges in the Upper Peninsula. I liked knowing that my state that has abundant wildlife had welcomed back its old brothers and sisters of the forest.

Hunting for food and sport hunting are also big in Michigan. Most of this activity is appropriate. Deer especially are an important food source for many people, and because predators were wiped out from the ecosystem, people need to hunt them.

After 50 years as a protected endangered species the Michigan wolves have regained lost ground. Their population in the state is estimated at over 600.

Then two years ago the Michigan legislature and Governor Rick Snyder moved to establish wolves as a game species so they could be hunted. Michiganders responded with petitions to stop the hunting. In a series of convulated shenanigans detailed by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, the public was prevented from halting the wolf hunt in 2013. Wolf hunting can involve cruel steel traps. Biologists have also identified hunting as especially deletirious to wolf packs in the book Among Wolves: Gordon Haber's Insights Into Alaska's Most Misunderstood Animal. When mature and experienced pack members are lost, the rest of the pack struggles. Sometimes juveniles do not survive without the support and leadership of their elders. According to the Department of Natural Resources, 23 wolves were killed during the 2013 hunt in Michigan.

On Nov. 4 this year, Michigan voters will have an opportunity to vote on two proposals that will establish a legal wolf hunt in three areas of the western Upper Peninsula. If the proposals are rejected, then wolf hunting will be temporarily stopped.

As I learned about the controversy surrounding Michigan wolves I wondered what was pushing the state government to so strongly support wolf hunting. Landowners in the Upper Peninsula already had the legal right to kill animals that threatened their livestock.

In the media I've only seen vague references to "special interests" that supported wolf hunting. I'm not sure what they are or how they make my government that so blithely ignores other major concerns scramble to legalize sport wolf hunting despite sizable public opposition.

Could it be because of an ingrained historical fear of wolves that persists among people even though it's been generations since most of us little piggies have had to flee our straw houses?

I decided to research how dangerous are wolves to people.

An illuminating study that asked if the fear of wolves was justified looked at records for the past 300 years in Scandinavia. The researchers sought valid reports of people being killed by wolves in predatory non-rabid situations. Southern Scandinavia is also a region where wolves are returning and people are concerned about it.

All confirmed deaths in this study took place prior to 1882. One death occurred in Norway, 16 in Sweden, and 77 in Finland. The abstract stated:

"The vast majority of victims were children under the age of 12. All the attacks were predatory in nature, as opposed to those done by rabid wolves. The incidents tended to cluster in space and time indicating that only certain wolves developed the habit of killing people."

The study went on to specify that in 85 percent of the child deaths, no adult was present and the victims were often alone. Personally I always wondered why Little Red Riding Hood was sent alone through the woods to grandma's house. Her mother must not have cared about her.

In the late 1990s an outburst of wolf attacks on children in India took place. Concentrated in Uttar Pradesh, the attacks inspired a series of lurid headlines at CNN, the New York Times, and other media outlets. Once again most of the children that died were unsupervised. This area of India also has a large human population overlapping wolf territories. Food scarcity likely drove some wolves to eat children.

Most wolf studies conclude that the thousands of historic human deaths and attacks attributed to wolves through the centuries were often caused by rabies and not typical wolf behavior.

Personally I am willing to live with wolves. They are an intelligent species. When we kill rogue ones that attack us, it will reinforce with the others to steer clear of humans. And by not hunting trophies, mature pack members will stay alive long enough to teach their young proper hunting practices instead of leaving them leaderless and desperate.

At non-lethal countermeasures to protect livestock from wolves are discussed. An emerging attitude among some enlightened ranchers views livestock predation by wolves as "a problem and not a zero tolerance catastrophe."

I believe that coexistence can be achieved with a minimum of wolf killing if ranchers are willing to try. The old knee-jerk attitude of kill all the wolves is antiquated and cruel. The Earth would be a poorer place indeed if this majestic species that shares many of our social traits were lost from Creation.

And if you're afraid of wolves, I advise not walking alone in wolf territory, especially after dark. Don't let your children move about alone either in places predators might prowl. I consider this sound advice in any situation. I worry much more about people hurting me than wolves.

Large coyotes live around me, and I know they run in packs. I heard them when camping at a recreation area just a few miles from my house. I wouldn't want to meet them when they're hungry, but I certainly feel no need to have them hunted into oblivion.

The old view of exterminating all predators as held by the majority of my state government is based on a desire to violently dominate Nature. No good can come of that.

Since I've began writing werewolf novels, I've been studying a great deal about wolves. It helps me develop my werewolf hero Thal in  Werelord Thal: A Renaissance Werewolf Tale and Journey of the Hunted. In these novels I explore the good and bad within both wolves and humans. Because these adventures are set in the Renaissance, a time of widespread torture and general human cruelty, people don't come across as the kinder species.   

Werelord Thal: A Renaissance Werewolf Tale

Thal is wanted for Devil worship and shape shifting but still boldly walks the streets of 16th century Prague. Jesuits hunt him. Mercenaries fear him. Musicians sing his praise, and women are captivated by his alpha swagger.

Born of a witch and a sorcerer, he is summoned when his desperate mother casts the werewolf spell before facing torture and execution. Burdened with her magical call for vengeance Thal seeks the men that killed her. His hunt is complicated when the Magistrate’s stepdaughter Altea Kardas crosses his path. Horrified that her community is burning women to death, she can confide her doubt and fear only to Thal.

He desires her greatly but knows he will bring ruin upon her. Across Bohemia and beyond people who are different are labeled heretics in a restless world hobbled by tyrannical ignorance. The Renaissance has thrown the Holy Roman Empire into turmoil. Printed books are spreading radical ideas. Firearms are triggering a new age of warfare. And the human spirit is shaking off obedience.

Thal embodies the ancient magic of the pagan past. He challenges a world conquered by a spiritual system that denies the flesh and forgets the Earth. And he awakens within Altea recognition of these truths. She believes any risk is worth loving him until she becomes the bait in a trap set by Thal’s enemies. 

Available at:

Brave Luck Books (ebook or paperback)


A note from Tracy Falbe: Be the first to know about my new releases and special sales at Brave Luck Books. Join the Readers' List. Ebooks and audiobooks available worldwide. Print in select countries.