HOWL Colorado

Are wolves dangerous to humans?

HOWLColorado : Wolf FactsYes, as with all wild animals with any significant size, wolves can be dangerous.  The San Diego Zoo, however, states: “There is no record of a healthy wolf ever eating a human being.”

HOWL Colorado’s goal is educate the general public about the truth regarding wolves. This includes the dangers associated with these wild predators.

The statement from the San Diego Zoo is parroted often, and sometimes changed to state that there has never been an attack on a human. This variation is not technically true, though the mental and physical state of the wolves in question is certainly something that can be debated. Is a wolf, human or any other animal on the verge of starvation healthy? The statement from the San Diego Zoo is quite specific however, as it refers to predation. To this point, there still has been no documented predatory killing of a human by wolves.

So rare are wolf attacks, however, that the statement is forgivably generalized. In North America, there have been six documented unprovoked attacks causing injury, and 21 believed to be related to wolves which had been fed by humans, in over a century. One attack attributed to wolves was fatal – though there is still some debate regarding the actual cause of death, some believe the wolves scavanged – that attack is one of the 21 which involved human-fed wolves.  *incomplete list of attacks: Peterson 1947; Jenness 1985, and post 1985 – Icy Bay, Alaska; Vargas Island, BC; Algonquin Park, Ontario; and Carnegie 2005 – fatality, Northern Saskatchewan*.  

For comparison:

1990-2009
592 attacks have occured involving captive exotic cats (which resulted in 21 deaths of humans)

1991-2003
73 mountain lion attacks (resulting in 10 fatalities). Interestingly, 1985 marked increased human/animal encounters for both mountain lions and wolves.

2000-2009
Bears killed 28 people in North America.

Dogs have killed an average of 26 people a year in the US for quite some time.

Lightning killed 48.9 people on average per year between 1995 and 2004.

So is the statement entirely accurate? That can be debated. Once you feed wild animals, you define a home range for them. The property is now part of their protected territory. This implies that 21 of the 27 documented attacks were territorial in nature, which also explains why fatalities are so rare. If the targeted human had a pet with them, the pet was likely the target and if the human reacted correctly, and naturally – withdraw – the wolves would feel the territory was successfully defended.

 However, the facts are clear. Wolves are not inclined, by their nature, to attack humans. Indeed, the fact that we have pet dogs implies that particularly bold, inquisitive wolves (or wolf predecessors) interacted with humans in a non-agressive fashion at some point in our past.

However, as human/wolf interactions have increased due to human incroachment into wolf territory, the education of humans about the true nature of wolves is particularly important. Wolves are predators. Large predators. No, they don’t attack humans, are elusive and shy, and perhaps the most capable of adapting to and co-existing with humans, but they are predators. As such, precautions should be taken, much as they are for bears and other native American predators. The nature of wolves can even be used to our advantage in this regard. Wolves “test” the situation a number of times. Ethologist Dr. Geist, from the University of Calgary, wrote a 2008 paper which while full of typing errors, did outline as many as seven necessary steps leading to attacks on humans. The very first step is to require some desperation due to lack of food supply! Deterring unwanted wolf behavior by not allowing them uncontested entry in to territory prevents the animals developing the necessary boldness required for any additional steps.

Follow the rules below if you live in/are visiting an area frequented by any large predator:

1 – Don’t approach wild predators.

2 – Don’t feed predators on your property. Ever. No matter how cute they are (foxes and coyotes for example)

3 – When in a predator’s territory (i.e., on a camping trip), keep pets well guarded, and leave no food exposed.

4 – Predators will take unprotected pets (either due to being a perceived threat or potential food), and food is a dangerous lure. Wolves typically will NOT venture in to campsites to tempt their fate, but bears are not nearly as shy. Given long enough to acclimate to your presence (weeks, if not months), any predator might take their chances with this easy food source.  This is a golden rule when in the American wilderness.

5 – Know how to react. If faced with a predator, any sign of weakness can mean your demise. Look big. Maintain eye contact at all times. If you are wearing a coat, open it wide to appear larger. Back away until line of sight is broken and quickly exit the area or find a place of safety. Trees are safe only from animals which can’t climb. Bears can climb. Running is safe only if you can run faster than the predator. Predators can run very very fast, you can’t – so DON’T run (that’s a sign of weakness).

6 – Be educated. Be aware. Be responsible.

Humans have no natural predators. And based on pure statistics, when combined, you have more a significantly higher chance of being struck and killed by lightning than you do of encountering and being killed by a wild North American predator of any kind.

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