Answers to the most frequent questions about the species.
In Europe, the wolf is not considered a dangerous species for humans. On the contrary, the wolf tends to avoid people, as also demonstrated by a recent study on radio collared wolves in Sweden. In the case of a direct sighting it is important to have a correct approach avoiding the disturbance as normally indicated for all wildlife. Wolves do not consider humans to be prey: they are wary of humans and, if they can, keep a safe distance. In most cases of encountering people, they leave spontaneously. As with all wildlife, one should not try to interact or interfere, so one should avoid approaching and providing or leaving sources of food to avoid forms of habituation.
In archival documents (e.g. parish archives, chronicles, annals, ordinances, notices, edicts, …) there have been reports of wolf attacks since the Middle Ages in rural and alpine contexts, which are very different from today’s. In those times human presence was greater and widespread in rural areas and the number of wild prey available to the wolf was on the contrary much smaller. In the countryside and in the cultivated and deforested mountains of a century ago, people, wolves, stray and wild dogs were in direct competition for space and food resources.
In the documents, some episodes of aggression by wolves have been reported as predatory acts: the victims were often children, more rare incidents happened against adults, especially women. Children were left alone to watch the animals grazing, a widespread practice all over the Alps until the early 1900s. But one has to take into account, the fact that in the past the method to ascertain the responsibility for the attack was totally subjective. Today, the contribution of genetic analysis carried out on saliva at the bite point allows an objective and robust finding of the responsibility of the predator – discriminating between wolf, dog or other wild animals.n addition, the rabies test determines whether the animal it is affected is healthy. In Italy, at least since the end of the Second World War, no attacks on humans have been recorded. In Austria, no recent attacks on humans are recorded, since the wolf was extirpated in the country around 1850. To learn more about incidents between wolves and people in the world, the most complete document (of which Predators that Kills Humans, 2016, is an update) is The fear of wolves. A review of wolf attacks on humans, freely downloadable also in French.
Can wolves carry rabies? Is it dangerous to humans? Does their presence significantly increase the possibility of this infection?
Today accidents between wolves and people occur especially in areas of the world where rabies is still present and in contexts that have very different natural and social landscapes from Europe (e.g. in Asia or in North America). 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. The last time in Europe, a wolf killed a human, happened in Spain in 1974. However, a fatal attack cannot be excluded in an absolute way. In the case of problematic animals, defined as bold wolves, specific management aimed at preventing accidents with people is indicated.
With a population of about 60,000 wolves in North America in the period from 2002 until today, only two episodes of people killed 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 (e.g. in the Alps there are on average of 60 inhabitants per square kilometer, in Alaska 0.43 inhabitants per square kilometer).
Rabies is a lethal disease that affects the central nervous system of wild mammals (especially foxes, badgers, beech martens, wild herbivores, etc.), domestic animals (dogs, cats, ferrets, cattle, horses, sheep and goats, etc.) and it is a zoonosis, i.e. a disease that can also be transmitted from animals to humans . The virus (Lyssavirus) is present in the saliva of the sick animal and can be transmitted to all other mammals – including humans – through a bite, a scratch, or the simple contact of saliva with the mucous membranes or the skin is not intact. In Europe, very few cases of rabies in humans are reported annually in the EU/EEA and most Member States have had no endemic cases for decades. In Europe, rabies exposure bites are typically from foxes and stray dogs, but also occasionally from raccoons. The wolf is not a specific risk for the transmission of this zoonosis.