Predator Protection - CanadaSometimes what’s most effective is also most humane
For centuries, wolves have captured our imaginations. Some cultures consider wolves to be important symbols of power or protection, while others make them out to be menacing villains—think Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs.
In real life, wolves pose surprisingly little danger to humans, whereas they are the targets of government-sponsored killing in many countries across the globe.
Here’s what you should know about these misunderstood creatures.
Wolf populations live scattered throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They inhabit parts of North America, Europe, Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Asia, with larger wolf populations mostly restricted to areas of Eastern Europe, Northern Asia, Alaska and parts of Canada.
Wolves make homes in forests, deserts, grasslands and everything in between, including developed environments such as agricultural land.
In captivity, a wolf can live up to 20 years. In the wild, a wolf’s lifespan is usually no longer than 10 years.
Wolves are true carnivores and eat 1.4–1.8 kilograms (3–4 pounds) of meat per day. At times, they can consume as much as 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) of meat in a single day.
Wolves primarily hunt ungulates, such as deer, roe deer, wild boar and moose, and depending on the habitat, they may also prey upon rabbits, birds, fish and amphibians. Because wolves hunt in packs, they can take on animals that are larger than themselves, but they still often seek out the weakest animals.
Howling is an important way for wolves to communicate. Wolves howl to keep the pack together during a hunt, to signal when they have spotted prey or to attract a mate. Wolves also howl to mark their territory and scare off other wolves.
Each wolf howls at its own unique pitch, which helps them determine how many animals are in another pack. Within a pack, wolves can recognise each other based on their howls.
Howling is not the only way wolves communicate. They use other sounds, scents and their body language to convey a variety of message to other wolves.
Wolves rest and slumber in the grass, under trees or in bushes. As a female prepares to give birth, the pack moves into a den, which is often dug near water and sometimes lasts for several generations. The female wolf gives birth to her cubs and cares for them in the den, which the father guards, until they are strong enough to travel with the pack.
A pack is composed of a wolf family led by parents often with two generations of cubs below them. A female wolf gives birth to an average of 1–8 cubs but not all of them survive their first year. In Europe, packs do not normally exceed 2–10 wolves. In North America, larger packs of up to 20 wolves exist.
Females tend to remain closer to the pack, while males often set out in search of new habitat and a mate. Such a journey is easily hundreds of kilometers long.
Fun fact: Wolves in Russia and Finland have been tracked migrating all the way to Norway and Sweden—a distance of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles)!
Wolves pose very little risk to human safety in Europe and North America. Researchers have noted that although the statistical risk of a human being attacked by a wolf is above zero, it is far too low to be calculated. In fact, wolves are probably more afraid of you than you are of them—they tend to flee when a human is present. Occasional close encounters between humans and wolves that typically result from habituation are likely to have tragic consequences for the wolves.
Humans and wolves can easily coexist. The rule of thumb is, if we leave wolves alone, they will leave us alone.
In Canada, wolves are trapped and killed for recreational and commercial purposes. They are also the target of government-led slaughters in British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
In parts of Canada and the U.S., deadly poisons—which threaten non-target wildlife, pets and even people—are also used to kill wolves in a misguided effort to reverse the decline of endangered caribou population.
In both Canada and the U.S., IFAW is supporting legislation and regulations that would stop the use of the poisons such as sodium cyanide, strychnine and Compound 1080 to kill wolves and other species. The use of these poisons is inhumane and unethical, as they cause intense suffering and a prolonged, painful death. They are also ecologically disruptive and dangerous to the public.
By contrast, wolves are strictly protected in the EU, and packs have started to repopulate certain parts of their historic range. In Europe, IFAW’s has focused on raising public awareness, monitoring the wolf repopulation, and enabling the coexistence of wolves and livestock farmers. We support the implementation of livestock protection measures such as wolf-safe fencing and livestock protection dogs.
In the U.S., wolves were reintroduced into the lower 48 states in the 1990s after being wiped out during the preceding century. They have since reprised their role as an integral part of their ecosystems, including the landscapes in and around Yellowstone National Park.
Populations in North America and Europe require ongoing protection before they—and the ecological services that they provide—are truly sustainable.