Wolf

Wolf • Canis lupus

Protected wolves

Practically no other animal features more extensively in northern myths and legends than the wolf. For thousands of years it has hunted the same prey as humans and has killed our domestic animals.

Classification

The wolf is part of the canidae (dog) family. Wolves were domesticated as far back as perhaps 50,000 years ago. All domestic dogs descend from wolves.

Appearance

The wolf looks like a large German shepherd or Alsatian dog, but has shorter ears and a broader, larger head. It varies in size; the largest wolves live in Siberia and Alaska. Wolves don’t bark, instead they howl. The howling is their way of marking their territory, and also a way to gather the pack together for a hunt and to reinforce social ties.

Ecology

Wolves live in a pack consisting of a pair of wolves and their cubs. There is a strict hierarchy in the pack, where the adult male and female (the alpha pair) rank the highest. The pack have a territory, their home environment, that they guard closely from other wolves and dogs.  The territory is often 20-30 km in diameter. The wolves mark the limits by spraying them with urine.

Wolves hunt elk (moose), roe deer and reindeer, but also eat other animals, such as other deer, beaver, hare, wild boar and badger. They also sometimes eat voles, frogs, animal carcasses and waste. After a successful hunt, a wolf can eat up to 9 kg of meat in one day. Wolves hunt in packs. The hunts starts by the wolves trying to creep up on their prey from behind. If the prey gets away and the wolves do not catch it up within a few hundred metres, they usually break off the hunt.

Reasons for decline

When humans started to keep domestic animals, the wolf became a tough contender, because it found the livestock easy prey. The wolf’s decline is largely due to intensive hunting. Wolves did not become protected in Sweden until 1966, when there were fewer than 10 left.

The increase in wolf numbers among Swedish fauna has been the subject of much debate. Hunters see them as a competitor for game, especially elk, and at a territorial level a wolf pack can have a huge impact on the elk population.
There are clear risks of inbreeding in the Swedish wolf population, because it originates from just three wolves.

Most wolves are timid and do everything they can to avoid people. A wolf is capable of killing a human, but this only occurs in very exceptional circumstances. The latest documented incident of a wolf killing a human in Sweden took place in 1821, and involved a wolf that had been raised in captivity and had therefore lost its natural shyness of humans.

The species is classified as “critically endangered” (CR) on the Red List of the Swedish Species Information Centre. It is also one of the species in the EU’s Habitats Directive.

Conservation work

The Swedish wolf population is threatened by inbreeding and poaching. Since the wolf became protected, a series of measures have been taken to prevent damage, reduce conflicts and thereby benefit wolves.

Populations around the world

The wolf around the world


In the past wolves could be found in large parts of the northern hemisphere, but they were forced out of much of these areas through intensive hunting. In Europe wolves remain in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia, and in some small isolated groups in Spain and Italy. Wolves also live in Siberia, further south to India and the Arabian Peninsula as well as in North America. There are about 250,000 wolves in the world.

Wolves were found virtually throughout Sweden in the mid-19th century. However, increasingly concentrated hunting and better guns led to the predator’s rapid decline. Eventually wolves only remained in the mountainous regions, and that was where the last wolf died in the 1970s. In the early 1980s new wolves were discovered in Värmland Province. They originated from a pair that had migrated eastward into Sweden. Another wolf migrated across the border in the early 1990s. All wolves in Sweden today stem from these three individuals.

NEWS