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Wolf hysteria (also known as wolf persecution, or rarely, lupophobia) is the widespread public hatred of wolves, incorporating both their enduring role as folk devils (including the famous "Three Little Pigs" and "Little Red Riding Hood" as well as the traditional British tale of Gelert the Dog), and societal attitudes favouring policies of active persecution of wolves, and opposition and resistance to policies aiming to protect existing wild populations, or reintroduce the species into former ranges where it has become extinct relatively recently. The phenomenon shares much in common with moral panics, including the use of scaremongering, unverifiable anecdotes, demonisation, exaggeration, moral highroading etc., to the extent the phenomenon could be considered a moral panic in and of itself, though it is not commonly referred to as such.
Except for the domestic dog, the wolf is least likely among all predators large and powerful enough to kill and eat humans to make a predatory attack upon humans. Bears and Big Cats are much more dangerous than wolves.
Fierce and often aggressively negative perceptions of wolves have a long history in western (and many other) cultures. However, the main issues triggering a renewed outpouring of hysteria often stems from any proposal (real or simply made up) from a few major "hot button" issues:
- Predation of livestock
- Attempts to introduce/extend protections for wolves
- Attempts to re-introduce wolves to areas where they had become locally extinct
Manning the moral barricades
The most shrill cries attesting to the apparently limitless evils of the wolf arise, unsurprisingly, from the livestock industry. It claims that predation of livestock by wolves is rampant, and that seeing the unending bloodbath caused by these "specialists in carnage" causes those who raise animals to slaughter en masse for meat, to be emotionally distraught by, well, the killing of animals for meat.
In the USA, an equally unsurprising alliance with hunting and game interest, complete with numerous front organizations and astroturf operations, has been established, including the Abundant Wildlife Society of North America (AWSNA) and the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA). They have been aided and abetted by the wider so-called "conservative conservationist" movement (itself usually astroturf or greenwashing for forestry, hunting, and agriculture interests), such as Conservation Force, but perhaps best illustrated by Mike Dubrasich and his erstwhile Western Institute for Study of the Environment (WISE) (AKA SOSForests).
Wolves cause significant losses to livestock producers
A common refrain is that attacks (predation) on livestock by wolves is a significant, or even one of the main, losses incurred by livestock producers.
In the USA, emphasis is placed primarily on the financial side, and also often emphasises that the inclusion of the wolf within the Endangered Species Act violates "property rights" and "constitutional freedoms". The "emotional trauma" suffered by livestock producers as a result of predation is also frequently mentioned.
It may destroy our livelihood, and our entire lifestyle is also in jeopardy.
(Call the Wambulance!)
A person doesn’t know or realize the emotional stress and fears of those that have had animals killed or maimed by wolves until you have it happen to yourself.
Firstly, though these organizations are ready to give the numbers of livestock affected by predation, these are never given as percentages, or even stated in relation to total herd numbers. In most states, the losses of livestock due to wolf predation was <1%. In the state of Wyoming, within which lies the entirety of the Yellowstone re-introduction area, the number varied depending by year between 0.9% and 2% in the period 2000-2005, averaging under 1% over the period. This compares with 33.7% to 48.3% over the same period for losses due to coyotes, 4.1% to 10.9% due to eagles, and from 11.2% to 20.7% due to weather. Indeed, poison, often left by livestock producers to kill wolves and other predators, was often responsible for a greater proportion of losses than those due to wolf predation.
Emotional trauma is of course impossible to either prove or disprove, but it is important to remember that livestock is ultimately reared for slaughter, either to directly obtain the primary products (meat and hides) or as means of profitably disposing of "spent" dairy or wool herds/flocks. Thus, one would expect anyone working in the livestock industry to deal with the death and processing of animals into food and other end-products as part of the day-to-day running of their business. It is highly unlikely that any individual emotionally disturbed by the slaughter of animals for meat or other products would find livestock work tolerable as a long-time career.
The inclusion of wolves in the ESA provides a mechanism for financial compensation to be paid for damages caused by wolves in partnership with the Wolf Compensation Trust, and in the case of wolves found in the act of attacking livestock or other domesticated animals within private property, it is permissible for the owner to take measures necessary to protect them. Therefore, it is hard to see how such an act can be a "violation" of rights.
Wolves decimate game herds
“”All wolves must be eliminated to restore our big game herds.
“”The Canadian wolves have decimated our elk, mule deer and moose populations to lows not seen since the ’60s.
There has been considerable hysteria over the impact of wolf populations on herds of elk. However, the National Park Service studies indicate that wolf reintroduction to the park, a major reserve for elk herds, would have negligible effect on hunting activities, and that the effect of wolf predation on elk populations would not, in and of itself, have an impact sufficient to be the decisive factor in elk population management. And in general, predator-prey relationships in nature produce population stability over the long-term.
Although the reasons behind fluctuating wild animal populations are complex, Drs. Doug Smith, Daniel Stahler, and John Vucetich conducted a joint National Park Service-MTU study into elk population at Yellowstone. Their findings found that:
- Elk population remained stable from the re-introduction of wolves in 1995 through to 2000, at around 17,000
- In the period 2000-2004, the population dropped 50% to 8,334. During this period, the Yellowstone area experienced drought conditions and increased hunting of Elk by humans.
Though hunting permits did not allow for a kill level equivalent to the total population drop, the researchers concluded that hunting led to a "super-additive" effect, whereby a 1% direct loss rate due to hunting was magnified to significant degree due to knock-on effects, which were only exacerbated by drought conditions. Although wolf predation was acknowledged to exist, its effect on the large population drops seen was regarded as a minor, largely insignificant factor:
Our analysis indicates that there is greater justification for believing that the harvest rate and severe climate, together, account for at least much of the decline
Wolves attack humans all the time
While it is known that wolf attacks on humans do occur, those engaged in wolf hysteria deliberately exaggerate the risk out of all proportion to implant the idea in their audience that all wolves routinely kill and eat humans.
“”Wolves are blood-thirsty predators that attack and kill pets, livestock, children, and adults.
“”…we need to protect [the cattle industry] from these intruders… they’ve moved into my ecosystem, not the other way around
“”258 Congressional Members Support Funding for Mexican Wolves Stalking Children and Wolves Terrorizing Rural Citizens
The facts in no way bear out such hysteria. Those involved in wolf hysteria often recount reports from the 18th and 19th centuries of real or imagined wolf attacks in Europe and Asia. Although Eurasian wolf subspecies are less wary of humans, and are able to live near higher-density human populations than their North American cousins, there are no reports of attacks. As the map clearly shows, no wolf subspecies (aside from the domestic dog) present on the Eurasian landmass is present on the North American landmass.
Statistics compiled by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) on global wild (not captive) wolf attacks show that in the period 1950-2000 (50 years), there were only 13 confirmed cases of wolf attacks on humans in North America, none of which were fatal. The most recent fatal wolf attack in North America was Candice Berner in 2010; before that, the most recent is believed to have been the death of Kenton Joel Carnegie in 2005, though experts are divided as to whether he was attacked by wolves or a bear.
In the United States alone (not the whole of North America), there are approximately 1 million reported instances of domestic dogs biting humans per year, with an average of 16 to 18 fatal attacks per annum.
Wolves spread disease
Groups and politicians opposed to wolf conservation often use the claim that wolves spread diseases to livestock and game populations. Whilst wolf populations, like that of any wild animal, carry disease, as apex predators, they are more often than not a "dead end" for transmission of disease, and are of little concern when it comes to disease management in most livestock and game populations.
The most serious diseases affecting wolf populations are those which also affect domestic canines: parvo, mange, and intestinal worms. In all cases, transmission of the disease is driven infinitely more by domestic dogs than wolves, and it is believed that in most cases these diseases have been introduced to the wolf population by domestic dogs. A notable exception is the presence of mange in North American wolf populations in the Rocky Mountains. This population was deliberately infected by government veterinarians in 1909 as an attempt to "exterminate" the wolf population, spread to coyotes and other mammals, and eventually re-infected wolves upon their reintroduction to the area.
Killing/trapping/hunting is the solution
“”I believe wolves need to be eliminated
A common refrain is that the only effective solution to any or all of the above is to drastically reduce the population of wolves. This inevitably entails lethal intervention on the part of humans. Such actions are proposed by many livestock producers as the panacea to all ills, and is, unsurprisingly, encouraged and guided by the hunting, trapping, and fur lobby organisations, which naturally present themselves as the only viable way of going about any such lethal solution. Alas, many hunting methods are exceedingly inhumane, with methods such as leg traps being commonplace in North America, though they are banned in the EU due to concerns over their inhumane nature.
Other excessively cruel/inhumane methods used include hunting wolves using specially trained flocks of eagles, a method historically and currently used in Central Asia, and recommended in proposals to open up the hunting of wolves in the lower 48 states of the US.
One of the hazards of hunting wolves is to dogs (technically dogs are subspecies of Canis lupus), which can be very wolf-like in appearance. Wolf-hunters often confuse the two similar creatures. Leg traps catch dogs, too.
Trump removed ESA protections for the wolf, much to the consternation of wildlife organizations and experts. However, a federal judge reversed this move in February 2022. The hunting lobby didn't take too well to this. To quote "Hunter Nation" president and CEO Luke Hillgemann:
We are disappointed that an activist judge from California decided to tell farmers, ranchers, and anyone who supports a balanced ecosystem with common-sense predator management that he knows better than them. [...] At Hunter Nation, we prefer to trust local experts and conservation and hunting partners to come up with predator management programs that make sense for them rather than putting our faith in bureaucrats who don’t spend time in the woods or never have to deal with the negative consequences of an uncontrolled wolf population.[note 1]
The Native American Ojibwe people also filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin, arguing that Wisconsin's planned wolf hunts violated their treaty rights. The proposed hunting quota was divided between the state and the tribes, because of treaty rights. This was quickly abandoned, however, when non-Ojibwe hunters bagged more wolves than they were legally allowed to. The planned hunt for November 2021 abandoned the concept of treaty rights entirely, with a proposed quota of 300 wolves. The Ojibwe didn't take too kindly to this, because, as the Ojibwe argued, "the out of state hunters are petitioning the courts just so they can hunt, not to protect the resources."
In contrast to the persecution of wolves, there are calls for wolves to be reintroduced to areas lacking their little furry faces, principally in Scotland in the UK, although there have also been proposals in Denmark, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and England. Rather than specifically talk about wolves, proponents often use euphemisms like "rewilding". Advocates of rewilding say that wolves would control runaway deer populations and possibly attract tourists. Opponents say, "Waaah!" and complain about dead sheep, although farming in most of Europe is already so heavily subsidised it would probably be cheaper and more nutritious to replace the sheep with robots containing soy fermentation tanks that crap tofu. In the middle, the Wolves and Humans Foundation want to see lynxes and wild boar reintroduced to Scotland first. In practice, the most likely outcome is that (as with beavers in the UK, which appeared mysteriously on the River Tay in Scotland and the River Otter in Devon, England) wolves will be reintroduced secretly and without permission by an eccentric landowner.
- This statement is suitably vague enough to present an emotional appeal while still staying nicely away from concrete data.
- Harris & Rosenburger, 1995
- Thomas, H S (2010), Cattlemen protest wolf predation of cattle in the west, BEEF Magazine, Sep. 2010 - WWW edition
- Rancher didn't want to join this club
- USDA (2006), Wyoming Agricultural Stats. 2006, pp.55 — PDF Version
- Exhaustively detailed here
- Rex Rammell's Contract With Idaho - WWW
- MTStandard, 5/apr/2010 - Article
- National Park Service: Yellowstone Elk — WWW Article
- Trophic Links: Predation and Parasitism
- Farquhar, B (2006), Yellowstone elk populations decline, but are wolves to blame? - WWW article
- Originally in Wolves are Killers, SOSforests.
- Wolves Gone Wild
- Action plan for the conservation of wolves in Europe - Section 2.4 wolves and humans.
- Linnell, Andersen et. al. (2002), The Fear of Wolves: A Review of Wolf Attacks on Humans, NINA/LCIE, Trondheim — PDF Document
- See the Wikipedia article on Kenton Joel Carnegie wolf attack.
- Thuermer, A M (2009), Wolves brucellosis-free, Wolf Print, #37 p14 — PDF Document
- French, B (2010), Study to use thermal imaging cameras to study mange in park wolves, Billings Gazette, 18/DEC/2010 - WWW Article
- Federal Issues: Multiple Use of our Public Lands - WWW Article
- WISE, 18/jan/2010
- Council Regulation (EEC) No 3254/91 - 
- Using an eagle to catch and kill a wolf
- Mech, L D (2010), Considerations for Developing Wolf Harvesting Regulations in the Contiguous United States, Journal of Wildlife Management, #74-7 pp.1421-1424 - PDF Version
- Federal judge reverses Trump era wildlife decision, restoring protections for the gray wolf - CNN
- "Native American tribes sue Wisconsin to stop planned gray wolf hunt" - CNN
- See the Wikipedia article on Wolf reintroduction.
- Rewilding, Rewilding Britain, accessed 29 May 2019
- Reintroducing the wolf to Scotland, Wolves and Humans Foundation, dated 2017, accessed 29 May 2019
- Guide to Britain’s beavers: history, reintroduction and best places to see, Countryfile Magazine, Immediate Media Company Limited, accessed 29 May 2019