A NEW UNDERSTANDING
Wolves are highly politicized animals, and because of this much misinformation follows wolves wherever they go. Common misconceptions about wolves can unfortunately cause real harm, as they promote irrational fears and can spark unnecessary retaliation or misguided policy that is not in the best interest of wolves. Read the most common myths and the truth behind them, and pass this information on. Helping to correct misinformation is one important way you can help wolves.
Wolves are dangerous to people
Wild wolves are generally afraid of people and avoid them. Along with other large animals like moose, cougars, and bears, wolves can be dangerous to people. However, incidents involving wolves are exceedingly rare. Over the past 100 years in North America, there have been only two cases in which wild wolves reportedly killed a human being. To put this statistic in context, also in North America, bears have killed at least 40 people since 2000, and, since 1990, cougars have killed nine. In the United States, domestic dogs kill approximately 30 people every year.
Wolves kill many cattle and sheep
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than six million head of cattle live in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, the three states where the vast majority of wolves in the West live. U.S. Fish and Wildlife reports for those states show that in 2014, wolves killed 136 head of cattle, or 1 cow out of every 44,853. In the same three states, 820,000 sheep live. U.S. Fish and Wildlife reports show that in 2014, wolves killed 114 sheep, or 1 in every 7,193. However, because these losses are unevenly distributed, they can take a toll on a single producer.
Wolves kill for sport
Unlike humans, wolves do not kill for sport. Wolves and all other predators kill for sustenance and survival. Sometimes carcasses are found that are only partially consumed, leading to the assumption that the kill was abandoned and wasted. The reality is, wolves are very wary and alert, and are therefore easily chased from their kill if other predators or people approach. Wolves are usually long gone before people realized they’ve chanced upon a kill. Research reveals, however, that wolves return to their food repeatedly, sometimes over weeks and even months, and most often eat the entire animal.
Like many other predators, wolves occasionally kill more than can be immediately eaten, sometimes resulting in the death of multiple prey animals. This uncommon behavior, known as “surplus killing,” has been documented in many predator species. Surplus killing by wolves is more likely to occur in late winter, when having a supply of food caches to return to is critical for survival. Nature is rarely wasteful, if ever. Whatever the wolves don’t eat first, is welcomed nourishment for countless other animals.
Something entirely different (and unnatural) happens when predators pursue domestic sheep. Not only do sheep lack natural defenses but their instincts often do not serve them well either. Instead of fleeing, as wild prey would do, sheep tend to run in circles. This chaos can trigger a prey response in predators that can result in multiple kills. In the Northern Rockies this behavior has been recorded with mountain lions, bears, coyotes, wolves, and domestic dogs. However, many of the incidents where multiple sheep have been killed have been the result of panicked sheep stampeding themselves.
The wolves that were brought back to the West are supersize and more aggressive than those who lived there before reintroduction.
Gray wolves on average weigh between 85 and 115 pounds. The Rocky Mountain gray wolf is now, and always was, the same wolf living along the Canada-U.S. border. Like all wildlife, wolves are totally unaware of invisible political boundaries.
Wolves are killing all the elk and deer
Elk, the primary prey of wolves in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, have recently been holding steady in number. In fact, since wolves were reintroduced in 1995, the number of elk has substantially increased. But wolves have made elk more alert to danger and more challenging to hunt, causing resentment among some hunters.