“Are wolves aggressive?”

In Europe the wolf is not considered a dangerous species for humans.

In Europe the wolf is not consiered a dangerous species for humans.

One of the most frequent clichés in recent wolf recolonization areas is “We can no longer leave our children alone to take the bus because they will be attacked and devoured by wolves”.

First point: the wolf does not identify humans as prey. Its diet consists mainly of wild ungulates (deer, roe deer, chamois, wild boar, fallow deer) and it is generally wary of humans, which it considers as a potential threat to be avoided if possible.

In Italy and France, where the wolf is now present and widespread also in hilly and mountain areas (e.g. Western Alps) where tourist attendance is intense, sightings are still infrequent and no accidents with people have been documented. In fact, the wolf normally goes away trying to avoid the encounter with humans.

Like all wild animals, the wolf could show unpredictable attitudes, even aggressive, if it perceives a threat. Since it is a wild animal, behaving respectfully is a must: in case you come across animals that are feeding or across a litter or a wolf that is scared, injured or in trouble and unable to escape, it is the best to keep your distance and move away.

That said, returning to wolves, statistics show that attacks on people are rare occurrences. In fact, wolves have a shy and elusive character. They have excellent senses, especially smell and sight. They can sense the presence of people from a great distance and tend to move away before they approach. Even when they live in man-made areas, they prefer to move at night when people are less likely to be around, as shown by a recent study conducted in Sweden, in which the movements of 52 wolves belonging to 44 different packs were monitored over 10 years.

Today there are accidents between wolves and people especially in areas of the world where rabies is still present and in very different contexts from those in Europe (e.g. in Asia). Outside of these critical areas, in Europe and North America the risk of being attacked by a wolf is considered very low, given the case history of documented attacks in relation to the number of wolves in the various populations. However, it cannot be excluded absolutely, for example by wolves defined as bold or problematic.

For example, with a population of about 60,000 wolves in North America in the period 2002-2012, only two episodes of people killed by a predatory attack by wolves not suffering from diseases were recorded (source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game). These episodes concern remote areas with levels of anthropization that are not even remotely comparable to those in the Alps. To learn more about the incidents between wolves and people in the world, the most complete and updated document (even if it is from 2002) is The fear of wolves. A review of wolf attacks on humans and the updated document.

The wolf is therefore generally wary of humans, which it considers potential threats and avoids meeting if it can. Having said that, there are certain behaviours that it is important to keep (in this regard, we would like to point out our infographic ‘I saw a wolf!’). In the case of a direct encounter, it is important to have an approach that avoids disturbance, as is the norm for all wildlife. If you come across animals that are feeding, it is obviously a good idea to move away, as is the case if you come across a litter. It is also important to avoid approaching a wolf that is wounded or in difficulty and unable to escape, which could prove dangerous because it is frightened: in these cases it is recommended to immediately alert the competent territorial authorities (ASL, Carabinieri Forestry, Natural Parks, Provincial Police).

It is essential never to provide food for wildlife, including wolves. This means never offering them food directly, but also applies to food sources left available perhaps in the garden at home (pet food, food waste, organic waste). By doing so, in fact, you risk creating a positive stimulus that induces them to actively select anthropic environments and, in time, to get used to them, losing their natural mistrust of people. This applies to any wild animal, including wolves. A confidant wolf is a wolf that is strongly habituated to people, is not afraid of them and approaches people directly and repeatedly on foot, at a distance of less than 30 m. These wolves with abnormal behaviour can, however, be dangerous on certain occasions. In the case of wolves defined as problematic and confidant, specific management aimed precisely at preventing accidents with people is indicated. The second international conference of LIFE WolfAlps EU was dedicated to this topic. HERE an in-depth report on the topic.

In Italy, where the wolf is now extensively present in peninsular Italy also in lowland and hill areas, in the Western Alps and in the Central Eastern Alps, no confirmed attacks by wolves on people have been documented since the Second World War until the recent case of the Otranto wolf (an episode in 2017, which took place in Piedmont, involved – without consequences – a person who intervened to remove wolves from his dog). The Otranto wolf was captured on 15 July 2020 and placed in captivity, under the instructions of ISPRA. This wolf is a special case in that it had obvious signs that it had been raised in captivity, which explains its problematic and confiding behaviour. Animals exhibiting such behaviour are managed precisely because they are dangerous. In the summer of 2023 in Vasto, a she-wolf frequented the coastline and showed aggression towards several people. Again, the animal was captured and placed in captivity.


Archival documents (e.g. parish archives, chronicles, annals, ordinances, notices, edicts, …) report wolf attacks since the Middle Ages in rural and alpine contexts very different from those of today, where the human presence was greater and widespread and the number of wild prey available to the wolf much less. In the countryside and in the cultivated and deforested alpine landscapes of a century ago, people and wolves (probably also stray dogs) were in direct competition for space and food resources. In these documents of the time, episodes of aggression by wolves for food purposes are reported: the victims were often children or women left alone to watch the animals grazing, a widespread practice in Italy and other alpine countries until the early 1900s. The method to determine the responsibility for the attack was totally subjective, unlike today where the contribution of genetic analysis on biological samples (e.g. saliva on the bite) allows for an objective and robust finding of the predator’s responsibility. In Europe, at least since the end of the Second World War (except for one doubtful case that  happened in 1946), there have been no more attacks on humans for food purposes.

A significant number of attacks (fatal or not) on people registered in the past in Europe were caused by wolves suffering from rabies.