Are wolves a danger to humans?

Answer by Oliver Starr:

(the myth)

As someone that has raised, studied and work with wolves for the over a quarter of a century, I get asked this question a lot.  The numbers speak for themselves.  In modern history in North America there are 2 fatalities that were possibly caused by wolves.  During this period humans have killed between 500,000 and 2,000,000 wolves!

The two recent attacks were:

Kenton Joel Carnegie and Candice Berner (… )

The first of these, Kenton Joel Carnegie has not been ruled conclusively to be the result of wolves. In fact,  the two biologists that actually investigated the scene both came to the conclusion that a black bear was responsible.  One of these two biologists, Paul Paquet is someone I know and whom I have every confidence would make a correct evaluation.  Regardless, the circumstances were peculiar and included the fact that wolves in the area had become somewhat more habituated to people than typical wolves as a result of their access to garbage dump that was accessible to wolves and other predators.

In the case of Candice Berner, wolves are considered the most likely predators responsible, but this attack too had certain elements that made it odd. Namely that Ms. Berner was a very petite woman (somewhere around 5 feet tall) and she was running alone, at dusk and apparently wearing headphones.

I shouldn't have to tell you how foolish it is for anyone, least of all a person of diminutive stature to go running alone at dusk in an area frequented by large predators, and while intentionally hearing impaired due to the use of a headset. Her death is tremendously unfortunate, but it was likely the most unintentionally provoked wolf-related death ever.

Overall, wolves are vanishingly shy animals.  Even those raised by people and heavily socialized are typically quite timid (as anyone that has met our current animal will attest).

For the last several hundred years, humans have actually been intensively engaged in a program of selective breeding to keep wild wolves shy.  How? Because wolves that come near people are frequently killed.  In the general scheme of things, when wolves and humans mix, wolves die.

When you are outdoors in a truly wild place such as those where you'd be likely to encounter wolves, chances are you might hear them but not see them.  In fact it is only in the most unusual places (like Yellowstone National Park or Denali National Park) where wolves live free from the impact of human hunting and trapping that they can generally be seen and photographed in the wild.  Even then, it is usually with enormous telephoto lenses from a good distance away.

In fact, there's a joke among wolf watchers that you know wolves are around because people are praying to Manfrotto ( )- a  reference to the fact that folks are bent over cameras or spotting scopes on tripods and they look as if they are bent in prayer.

That said, wolves are large wild animals and because they make their living bringing down animals much larger than themselves they must be regarded with respect.  They are incredibly strong and highly intelligent.  If they were bent on killing a person, your chances of surviving, particularly if a pack were attacking you are very slim.  As someone that has actually experienced a wolf attack (I have written extensively about this experience here: Animal Behavior (Ethology): Would a lone adult wolf be able to take down an unarmed, athletic adult human? I can tell you more about this than you ever wanted to know.

I have also provided advice on how to prevent an attack from occurring, here:  Wolves: What should you do if you are attacked by a pack of wolves?

Overall, the chances of being attacked by wild wolves are incredibly small.  You're more likely to be killed by a bee sting, lightning, or trampled by cows but as with all large wild animals, being alert while in their domain, and having some familiarity with their behavior will make even this very small possibility one that cannot even be reasonably calculated.

(the sad reality) (Please note this gruesome picture can be found by typing  "wolf kill hero shot" into Google, though I see absolutely nothing heroic about this grinning idiot myself)

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