It seems an article of faith in American environmental circles that wolves are harmless. While (until recently) there was no record of modern North American wolves harming anyone, a bit of research shows this to be an anomalous situation. Wolves of the exact same species preyed on humans in Europe and Russia; wolves even smaller than ours eat humans in India to this day.
The recent death of a young man in Canada raised the possibility of wolf- human predation. Eminent mammalogist Dr. Valerius Geist was charged with investigating the incident. His conclusions, soon to be released, are not comforting.
Do not misunderstand me here, or Val. I believe that wolves are wonderful top- of- the- food chain predators, and ecosystems are healthier for their presence. I can thrill to a howl in the night. But attitudes must be realistic, and wolves should be hunted to keep them wary of humans. Wolves that become habituated, that hang around humans and their livestock in broad daylight, are a disaster waiting to happen.
Dr. Geist has written a long document analysing both the particular incident and pointing out signs of imminent danger. Let me quote a bit from both. First, from the abstract:
“The politically correct view about wolves, currently vehemently and dogmatically defended, is that wolves are “harmless” and of no danger to humans. This view arose from the early research of eminent North American biologists who, confronted by historical material contradictory to their experiences, greatly mistrusted such. Due to language, political and cultural barriers they could access such at best in part, but they were nevertheless convinced that the old view of wolves, as enshrined in Grimm’s fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood was incorrect and based on ill founded myths, fears and superstitions. They were greatly aided in this by premature conclusions about free-living and captive wolves, as well as by a brilliant literary prank by a renowned Canadian author and humorist, which illustrated wolves as harmless mouse eaters. While scientists quickly caught on, they nevertheless welcomed the opposition to the Little Red Riding Hood myth. They pointed to the undeniable fact that wolves killed no human in North America in the 20th Century. This did not, however, reflect on the nature of wolves, but rather on circumstances: wolves were eradicated or severely prosecuted over much of the continent, North Americans were well armed and quickly removed misbehaving wolves where such were still present, while hunted wolves are exceedingly shy and avoid humans. The view of the “harmless” wolf was greatly welcomed by the communist party of Russia, which ever since coming to power suppressed accounts of man-killing wolves. During and after the Second World War such censorship intensified, as was only disclosed after the fall of the communist rule in Russia. The reason for such suppression was to obscure the link between lethal wolf attacks and the disarming of the civilian population during the war. Wolves quickly exploited the defenselessness of villagers, leading to many fatal attacks on humans. When Russian scientists disclosed this, their translations in the west were suppressed and their authority and motives questioned by environmental organizations and some scientists.”
“It is even more ironic that, while wolf biologists stoutly denied dangers from wolves and failed to develop any understanding of the conditions under which wolves were harmless or dangerous, their counterparts studying urban coyotes did just that. They described a progression of behaviors, which predicts when coyotes would attack children. Wolves follow much the same progression. It can be divided into seven steps with increasing risk to humans, culminating with attacks on humans. Such a progression can be developed from historical material as well as from current attacks by wolves on humans in North America. The fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood is thus based in very real historical experiences in central Europe. In addition to targeted attacks, wolves can mistakenly charge humans. The politically correct myth of the harmless wolf is being defended with a number of lethal fallacies as well as by wrongly invoking the prestige of science. In practice it is a lethal myth and the tragic death of 22-year-old Kenton Carnegie on November the 8th 2005 in northern Saskatchewan, is a case in point. He had no authoritative warning. He was killed by wolves, which, protected from hunting, were not merely habituated to people through the use of a garbage dump, but had already mounted a first exploratory attack on humans, which was narrowly defeated. Against a pack of wolves, a lone man has no chance.”
From the conclusions:
“As I have shown, wolves signal impending attacks on people a long time before it happens. They act very much like their smaller cousin, the coyote. Yet the vehemence with which the myth of the “benign wolf” is defended by environmental groups, but also individuals claiming to be scientists studying wolves, transcends reason. Already a renowned biologist studying wolves laments that extremists have highjacked the wolf agenda. As scholars we must live by Oliver Cromwell’s admonition:” I beseech thee in the bowls of Christ, consider that thee may be mistaken!”. Especially, when political correctness has raised its ugly head!
“As to Kenton Joel Carnegie’s tragic death I harbor no doubts. He was killed and consumed by wolves.”
I welcome the return of the wolf to New Mexico, but I deplore its current means. Wolves that stalk humans in broad daylight– as is admitted– should be removed immediately. The impending disaster will not only hurt its victims– it may well put an end to our having any wolves here at all.
For some fascinating wolf material see this PDF of the wolves of the British Columbia rain forest. (HT Walter Hingley). It really shows what a high- end, opportunistic predator they can be.”Coastal wolves are proving themselves unique among wolves in the world by eating a high proportion of carnivores. Researchers are consistently finding the remains of black bears and river otters in wolf dietary samples- more than anywhere else where wolves have been studied. Notably, by consuming these two animals (which depend on food from the sea) wolves are indirectly feeding on marine resources. Interestingly, wolves also feed on other items from the sea such as washed-up marine mammal carcasses, crabs, mussels, and even barnacles.”
Adds Val: “Also, wolves released on islands in coastal Alaska completely cleaned up on deer, then turned to catching seals that had hauled out – and then starved to death! Every one. As opportunists they will in coastal areas search beaches for edibles. No wonder they are circumpolar and highly resilient to prosecution!”