What is the “Straight Dope” on wolf attacks? Do they attack, kill, and eat people with any degree of regularity?
When I was in Yellowstone the other year we learned that wolf attacks on people in the US are pretty rare. Seeing them way off in the distance through spotting scopes was a real treat.
I have read that centuries ago wolf attacks on people in Europe were more common (Cecil wrote a column about it). Depending on where you live in the world these days wolf attacks are more common than they are in the US, however overall wolf attacks on humans are unusual. I had a professor who helped design the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, he mentioned that as far as he knew the only attacks in Alaska were by individual rabid wolves, not packs hunting people.
They don’t attack/kill/eat humans with any “degree of regularity” but they are not domesticated animals so the best way to observe them is quietly, from a distance.
This site is clearly friendly towards wolves which may make their number suspect but they cite a study so seems pretty good:
Deaths from wild animal attacks in the US are overall quite rare (just saw a site that said 177 per year, including venomous animals, on average but lost it). Considering a population of around 350,000,000 that statistically barely registers. Wolves of course would only be a fraction of that.
So, on the whole, you have to be very unlucky to get killed by wolves. You are probably statistically more likely to get hit by lightning.
I recall once seeing a picture of some famous painting - Russia, I think - where the one-horse open sleigh is dashing through the snow, being pursued by a pack of wolves and someone (the mother) is throwing a baby off the back to slow down the pack so they can get away. Something about the harshness of life and the decisions that have to be made, or something - or was it a famous Russian folk tale, or something?
Anyone know this reference?
In alberta at least they dont. I saw wolves and tracks all the time when I was in the bush. Alone so I would think that several wolves could have had thier way with me if they wanted. I did have some follow me though, especially when my dog was in season. Then they would get close enough pitch a rock at.
Wolf attacks were relatively common in pre-industrialization Europe, at least before most of the wolves there were exterminated. I’m not sure of the historical frequency of attacks in North America.
There’s a list of known fatal wolf attacks on Wikipedia, with sources for most. Included in the list is the first documented fatal North American attack.
For contrast, there were 33 fatalities in 2007 alone from dog attacks, and an average of 4.7 million bite victims annually.
Predators like bears, wolves, and mountain lions get all the attention, but North American bison have more recorded attacks than bears in Yellowstone National Park (56 vs. 12 for bears). Similarly, “cute” hippopotamuses are far more dangerous than lions.
My mom goes to Yellowstone for four or five months every year. She’s seen or heard first-hand accounts of many of the bison attacks. It usually starts the same way–“She just wanted to get a picture of her and the ‘buffalo’…”
They’re wild animals. Don’t pose with them.
There’s the urban legend about the moron who wanted a picture of the cute little bear licking his little girl’s hands. He coated them with honey and then stepped back to get a good picture of the bear eating her hands off.
Wasn’t that last years season finale of the TV show Amazing Race?
Don’t know the original reference, but there is a song by the relatively well known Dutch singer Drs P. (link in Dutch) concerning throwing people - including babies - off the Troika to slow down the wolves. I’m sure he wasn’t the first to come up with the idea; I seem to remember kindergarten rhymes referencing the same trope.
That’s not really a contrast when you consider there are vastly more dogs alive now than there ever were wolves, and they are in MUCH closer contact with humans. Also, 33 fatalities is something of a high; in 2008, the number was 23, and over the last forty years or so it’s averaged something around 17 dog-caused fatalities per year.
You mean the attack in 1770? Because that’s the first one. And the list shows far more than one documented fatal North American attack, in fact it seems to show one every couple of years.
Heaven forbid wolves loose their fear of man!
We need to keep it secret that the wolf is 100 X better than we are in hunting.
36 years ago (just out of the service) I was within 10 yard of a timber wolf with a loaded rifle and I knew it was there. I was cocked and ready. He (it) kept a large tamarack tree between us as I slowly moved by then furrowed the snow with his brisket as he snuck across the fire break I was on, then one leap & he was in the thick spruce.
Had he wanted me, there was no contest.
The rifle put the fear in wolves IMHO!
I have been very close to 4 other wolves over the past 30 years
Three collared wolves were killed last fall in MN. That, although illegal, helps man, keep the fear factor up where it belongs. Hope they keep there mouths shut!
I’ve heard in the past that European wolves are much more willing to attack humans than American wolves. The theory I’ve heard given as to why is that European wolves co-evolved with humans and had time to adapt; they first encountered humans ( our ancestors, rather ) when they were stupid, unskilled and poorly armed if at all. North American wolves however first encountered humans when they were already sophisticated, well armed hunters and simply weren’t up to the challenge; the capability gap was too big. Evolution doesn’t work for improving their preying-upon-humans instincts if ALL the wolves which go up against humans die. They just evolved an aversion to humans instead, since the wolves that left humans along lived to breed.
Well said DER…
Interestiing, but there seems to be a simpler explanation. Americans lacked grazing animals. As a result there was an abundance of game reserves and prey that could be taken without bringing wolves into conflict with man. As a result American wolves had little need to prey on humans.
Once Europeans introduced domestic animals into their range the wolves were rapidly exterminated, so the opportunities for attack were minimal and short lived and could only have occurred at a time when wolves were being seriously persecuted and thus unlikely to be overpopulated and starving.
That’s not to say that American wolves aren’t genetically more timid, just that there are other factors that would seem more significant. Basically, wolves are going to be most prone to attacking people when they are in high densities, in prolonged contact with humans and are starving through lack of alternative game. Those conditions never really existed in the Americas, outside of perhaps northern Canada, until the twentieth century. Prior to that there was either abundant alternative game, or the wolves were so heavily hunted as to reduce their numbers well below starvation level.
It’s possible too (wild guess on my part) that it was simply a matter of proximity and familiarity. European wolves may have simply lost their fear. Along similar lines, humans and wolves may have been competing for the same food and territory. Something had to give.
These are just guesses, with absolutely no data to back them up, so take it for what it’s worth.
Personally, I’d be more worried about a bear than a wolf even though either one would kick my skinny butt.
Interesting. But you’d think the 100,000 or so years during which humans have in fact been dangerous would be enough for the European wolves to evolve considerable aversion.