News on a much-debated topic: Do wolves kill people?

Ha! So did I. I graduate in May.

At least in my neck of the woods, the big objection isn’t predation of livestock (or people) but big game, especially elk. There’s a bit more merit to this claim, since wolves and hunters essentially occupy the same position in the ecosystem. There’s already limited numbers of elk tags (which are given out by lottery) in many of the areas where wolves have or are going to be been reintroduced, and the concern is that if those populations take off it will get even harder both to get a tag and find an elk. Some wolf opponents really go off the deep end with this argument, saying that elk hunting is going to go away or elk are going to go extinct, but there are some legitimate concerns about big game populations and wolves.

The real problem isn’t whether or not wolves kill people, it’s it that they are capable of doing so. Wolves hunt in packs usually, so to take down big prey. There certainly is no question a wolf or wolf pack could take down a human.

The wolf is choosing not to. But that doesn’t make the wolf any less dangerous. Snakes usually don’t attack people, but it’s all to easy to step on one and have them bite you. Snakes aren’t out to get you, the same way wolves aren’t out to get you. The point is, they certainly could get you without much effort on their part.

The raw number of attacks means little. You have to put the data into a usable form. Like how many wolf attacks are there in area where people routinely present themselves as targets.

If I go into the ocean and never go more than four feet from the shore, I’m pretty safe from most kind of sharks. I’d imagine. Make no mistake if it was hungry and you were around a wolf would attack you given the chance.

And that is what the debate is about, not the actual but the potential

But capable or not, if they don’t actually do it, I’m not sure why its a problem.

Yes it does.

Again, there’s only two cases in the last 70 years. There’s not really much processing you can do on statistics that include just two cases. The number of wolf attacks in an area where people routinely present themselves as targets is zero a year, except in two places, where its 1/70th a year.

You think over the last 70 years, in all of North America, a human being has only come across a hungry wolf twice? I have trouble believing that. In reality, if a wolf is hungry, its still extremely unlikely to attack you given the chance, because in all but two cases, they haven’t.

I’m not really sure thats what the debate about. Wild deer have attacked and killed more people in North America then wild wolves have, but I’ve never seen anyone debate that. I expect the reason is because there are no fairly tales with deer as the villains, and so they aren’t perceived as dangerous creatures.

The debate is about people having perceiving wild wolves as wildly more dangerous to humans then they in fact are.

I wonder if attacks will increase as we continue to encroach on their territory.

While I agree with the second point, I must ask, what trustworthy documentation could there have been for most of the time? DNA analysis to verify wolf salvia, with histamine levels of the remaining tissue to verify the wounds were pre-mortem?

And what evidence are you citing for the behavior of wolves through most of human history? Most of human history has left very little evidence of anything.

Wolves are big, strong, dangerous, carnivores (with very strong family values, btw.) I see no reason to doubt they did their part in improve the gene pool of humans as of other other animals.

So, I gather you have never been a pretty young woman walking down a city street?

This kind of argument infuriates me, GreasyJack. Respectfully, I submit:

I admit - I do not hunt, but unless I have miss understood the many cultural references I have read, human hunters do not seek out older or sickly prey. Human hunters like those big fine specimens.

Wolves, on the other hand, pick off the easier prey; the older and slower, the weaker, the ones with an infectious hoof disease that will spread through the entire herd if left unchecked. Wolves improve the gene pool by removing the less fit and least healthy; they improve the herd’s environment by helping to keep the number to a sustainable level.

Humans do not occupy the same niche as other predators.

The problem with old accounts of NA wolf attacks is judging their credibility. For example, one of the accounts described in the Wiki article states as follows:

Sounds like an epic, heroic fight. But it does not, to my mind at least, ring true.

First, wolves are predators, and like all predators they tend to value their own lives highly when hunting for food. They are unlikely to press an attack when numbers of them are being shot and clubbed to death.

Moreover, the wolf pack is really little more than an extended family, and is rarely all that large - a pack of 11 would be on the upper end of the size range. This guy allegedly killed 11, meaning that there were supposedly many more, since they eventually ate him.

I can’t recall anything in detail, but I vaguely remember reading in a scholarly work (probably in either the edited volume A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture or Paul Barber’s Vampires, Burial, and Death) that at some point in the Middle Ages there was a surge in wolf attacks on humans. I have the feeling it was due to a combination of factors like a environmental conditions that left a lot of wolves hungry plus disease among humans that left people in rural areas weaker and more isolated.

If European wolves acted as scavangers, an upswing in epidemic diseases may have habituated them to eating (dead) people, as the usual rites for getting rid of bodies break down leaving more to eat.

Then, when the epidemic is over, that food source dries up - leading the now-habituated animals more likely to attack people, to get what they were accustomed to.

Jim Corbett, a who wrote The Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag among others (and who hunted many man-eating tigers and leopards in India) stated his theory that, while human-eating tigers were mostly weak or injured animals who could not get other prey, human-eating leopards usually got that way from becomming habituated to eating dead bodies following epidemics - hence, allegedly, an upsurge of human-eating leopard activity in the early '20s following the great flu epidemic in India.

Well to be fair, it goes to just below the title that explains that is what section it is. What I saw was just a list of years with various info, not realizing it was titled something about fatalities (because that was above what was shown on my monitor), so I scrolled to the top of the page, realized it was long than I wanted to read given that someone had apparently JUST READ IT and would already know the answer, so I figured it was pretty harmless to ask the person who probably had the number right there on the tip of their tongue, rather than read a whole wikipedia page about the general topic, which was far more than I wanted to know about. Didn’t seem like something to get crucified over.

Opal, it wasn’t a long article to begin with. You spent more time composing your post about how you can’t be bothered to skim it than it would have taken to actually skim it. I went from “hmm… I wonder what google says” -> google results -> wikipedia entry -> fatal attack table -> to posting what I found in under five minutes. I am not going to have any sympathy for you because you can’t be bothered to make the miniscule effort of scrolling.

I am not here to spoon feed you.

It doesn’t matter if wolves and humans aren’t necessarily hunting the same individuals, it’s the overall population that matters. Wolves will certainly grab an elk that’s not keeping up with the herd, but that’s a relatively rare occurrence. More usually, easy prey means calves and cows, which means that fewer of those magnificent bull elk specimens are going to be born and reach maturity. Beyond simple predation, it turns out that elk numbers also go down because wolves keep herds out of open meadows where the good winter grazing is. That means the cows are undernourished and fewer of them calve in the spring.

There’s still plenty of uncertainty as to the magnitude and causes, but the observation that elk populations go down quite a lot when wolves are reintroduced has been fairly well established.

Well I am not invested enough in the topic to do more than ask a quick question. It wasn’t important enough for me to read a wikipedia article. Not everyone who participates in a thread is interested in it to the level of doing lots of research or reading articles. That does not mean I should be raked over the coals. You could have just said “it’s in the link” and been done with it. But you chose to be all snarky and rude. That says a lot more about you than it does about me.

If you keep this up, OpalCat, I’m going to have to pit you.

Oh, I have no doubt of that. And I quite frankly admit my idea of wild life is happy hour.

I have studied biological sciences, so I wonder:

For how long does the elk population go down? Does it dip sharply and then increase and level off? If so, is it at or near the pre-wolf population? If it is significant lower than the pre-wolf years, what is the overall health of the herds?

If the overall number decreases, but the individuals remaining are stronger, healthier, and faster, it should be better for the herd. Unless, of course, the remaining animals are subject to pressures they cannot respond to.

OpalCat, I changed my mind and pitted you anyway. You can find the thread here.

I think most likely the populations will drop to near what they were before wolves and other predators were exterminated in the first place. It’s just that most hunters would prefer the current situation of very high elk populations and being able to get an elk tag every year. I’m not a hunter (though I am a recreational user of the same land) and I personally support carefully-managed wolf reintroduction, but I’m just pointing out that there’s a little more to the anti-wolf point of view than some sort of primal fear of wolves.

For one thing, there are other predators like cougars, bears, and even coyotes will already take down a weaker elk or an unguarded calf if the situation presents itself, but wolves and humans are the only the only ones that routinely bring down healthy elk. More generally, though, there are crises in genetic diversity in most large North American wildlife due to having been decimated by historic overhunting. Even when populations recover, because they are entirely descended from a handful of surviving individuals it can cause problems down the line. So from a wildlife management perspective on the time scales humans are concerned with, you generally don’t want to just let natural selection run its course any more than you have to because it would further thin that gene pool.

I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but part of the problem is that wolves are hard to manage for both practical and political reasons. They’re recently started very low-quota wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho, but so far hunters have not done a very good job meeting those quotas, so it’s clear that sport hunting alone won’t work. The management tools agencies will have to use are unpopular ones like trapping and culling packs by helicopter. Then there’s the political and legal troubles, where you have on the one side environmental groups that oppose ANY moves to slow the growth of wolf populations, but on the other hand the current powers that be in Idaho and especially Wyoming are loathe to set any management strategy short of “kill 'em all”. I think it’s a situation where everyone’s concerns and goals could be reasonably well-met if actual wildlife management agencies were allowed to do their job, but there’s lots of people passionate about either extreme and hardly anyone advocating from the middle, so to speak.

I assumed the anti-wolf point of view was primarily economic - they do kill expensive resources, don’t they? [And I think a primal fear of wolves is quite sensible. I think dogs that size should be treated warily.]

As for managing them, well, that’s the problem - that we have to manage them. Ideally, we would throw about 20 unrelated wolves out there, let them fight it out with the cougars, let the elk v. wolf population find it’s own balance, and keep a better eye on our cows. And stop encroaching on wild areas, so they can continue to support adequate populations of other animals. Yeah, no, that’s not happening.

But, on the elk issue, I see the argument as: we must eradicate the wolves, because they are killing the animals we want to kill. I lack sympathy there.

(I also get infuriated by people who move out to the further suburbs and want the deer to stop eating their flowers, or think the baby bear in the back yard is so cute. It’s the disrespect and the utter lack of a sense of natural balance that frustrates me.)

Ok, have fun with that. I don’t read the Pit.

Ok, now that I’m not at work and have more time, I want to reply more fully to you, A Monkey With a Gun. I don’t have any problem with you. I didn’t want to start any trouble with you. I was reading the thread and saw a link about wolf attacks, which I clicked on. It took me to the middle of a Wikipedia page–with the subsection’s title off the screen–so I just scrolled to the top to see what the article was. It was called “wolf attacks on humans.” Second point: I assumed the person who posted the article had read it, and would know the answer to my question offhand. My question was simple, casual, and not important enough to read a whole wikipedia page to answer if it was just as easy for someone who already knew the answer to just give the number. And I assumed the person posting the article knew that answer. So I asked a simple question. If the answer was that you didn’t know off the top of your head but that it could be calculated from the info on the linked page, you could have just said so, and I probably would have looked at the page more carefully to see how easy the data was to dig out, and would have decided from there if I needed to know badly enough to do said digging.

I never meant to offend anyone or get anyone’s feathers ruffled. As I said, I saw what appeared to be reasonably in-depth link to an article about attacks in general, and asked a question about a single number that I assumed the person posting the link would know already. I’m sorry that it turned into what it did–it was never meant to.

I thought that was what the SDMB was all about, fighting ignorance, not complaining in the Pit.
That, as has been posted to me, is retarded. :slight_smile: