Can you live safely among wolves?

Safe Human-wolf Contact
Adorable? Yes. Your new best friends? Not quite.
Adorable? Yes. Your new best friends? Not quite.
Grant Faint/Getty Images

Although wolves have plenty of haters, something about them attracts human interest. After all, the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park drummed up an estimated $19 million in related tourist income [source: Bangs]. The intentional repopulation of gray wolves in Yellowstone and central Idaho began in the mid 1990s. Since then, the lobos have rebounded remarkably well.

This also means that wolves are expanding their territory, begging the question of whether potential human-wolf contact will cause problems. After all, wolf predation on livestock and a popular fear of the animal fueled their initial extermination during the first half of the 20th century in the United States. Is living in proximity to wolves inherently dangerous?

Statistically, the answer is no. In 60 years, only three, nonfatal wolf attacks occurred in the lower 48 states, all in Minnesota [source: McNay]. Wolves naturally shy away from people, preferring to stick to wild, hoofed prey. In fact, there's no substantiated evidence of a wolf ever killing a human in North America, even though tens of thousands inhabit different areas across the continent [source: Busch]. Will wolves attack cows or sheep or even your yappy pet dogs? Yes. But it's a pretty safe bet that a healthy, nonrabid wolf won't come after you.

­Wolf biologists have expressed concern about one factor that sometimes goes along with wolves and humans sharing the same space: habituation. If people purposely leave food out in their yards to feed some wild wolves or don't properly dispose of garbage during times when prey is scarce, they invite trouble. As a wolf grows comfortable with being around humans and getting scrap rewards, the more confident it'll become in approaching us [source: International Wolf Center]. Remember that wolves are wild creatures and don't share the same behavior as their domesticated descendents -- even their adorable puppies.

If you encounter a wolf, the International Wolf Center recommends these actions:

  • Don't approach closer than 300 feet (91 meters).
  • Wave your arms and make noise to show your dominance.
  • Don't turn your back to it.

You can also contact the Department of Natural Resources in your state or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for further instructions.

Learn more about wolves and their interactions with people by visiting the links on the next page.


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