Seven Stages Leading to A Wolf Attack on People

Print Friendly

Prepared by Dr. Valerius Geist:

These Are The Seven Stages Leading To An Attack On People By Wolves

1) Within the pack’s territory prey is becoming scarce not only due to increased predation on native prey animals, but also by the prey evacuating home ranges en mass, leading to a virtual absence of prey. Or wolves increasingly visit garbage dumps at night. We observed the former on Vancouver Island in summer and fall 1999.

Deer left the meadow systems occupied by wolves and entered boldly into suburbs and farms, causing – for the first time – much damage to gardens. At night they slept close to barns and houses, which they had not done in the previous four years.

The wintering grounds of trumpeter swans, Canada geese and flocks of several species of ducks were vacated. The virtual absence of wildlife in the landscape was striking.

2) Wolves in search of food began to approach human habitations – at night! Their presence was announced by frequent and loud barking of farm dogs. A pack of sheep-guarding dogs raced out each evening to confront the wolf pack, resulting in extended barking duels at night, and the wolves were heard howling even during the day.

3) The wolves appear in daylight and observe people doing their daily chores at some distance. Wolves excel at learning by close, steady observation [1]. They approach buildings during daylight.

4) Small bodied livestock and pets are attacked close to buildings even during the day. The wolves act distinctly bolder in the actions.

They preferentially pick on dogs and follow them right up to the verandas. People out with dogs find themselves defending their dogs against a wolf or several wolves. Such attacks are still hesitant and people save some dogs.

At this stage wolves do not focus on humans, but attack pets and some livestock with determination. However, they may threaten humans with teeth exposed and growling when the humans are defending dogs, or show up close to a female dog in heat, or close to a kill or carrion defended by wolves. The wolves are still establishing territory.

5) The wolves explore large livestock, leading to docked tails, slit ears and hocks. Livestock may bolt through fences running for the safety of barns. When the first seriously wounded cattle are found they tend to have severe injuries to the udders, groin and sexual organs and need to be put down. The actions of wolves become more brazen and cattle or horses may be killed close to houses and barns where the cattle or horses were trying to find refuge. Wolves may follow riders and surround them. They may mount verandas and look into windows.

6) Wolves turn their attention to people and approach them closely, initially merely examining them closely for several minutes on end. This is a switch from establishing territory to targeting people as prey. The wolves may make hesitant, almost playful attacks biting and tearing clothing, nipping at limbs and torso. They withdraw when confronted. They defend kills by moving toward people and growling and barking at them from 10 – 20 paces away.

7) Wolves attack people. These initial attacks are clumsy, as the wolves have not yet learned how to take down the new prey efficiently. Persons attacked can often escape because of the clumsiness of the attacks.

A mature courageous man may beat off or strangulate an attacking wolf. However, against a wolf pack there is no defense and even two able and armed men may be killed. Wolves as pack hunters are so capable a predator that they may take down black bears, even grizzly bears [2]. Wolves may defend kills.

The attack may not be motivated by predation, but be a matter of more detailed exploration unmotivated by hunger. This explains why wolves on occasion carry away living, resisting children, why they do not invariably feed on the humans they killed, but may abandon such just as they may kill foxes and just leave them, and why injuries to an attacked person may at times be surprisingly light, granted the strength of a wolf’s jaw and its potential shearing power [3].

[1] – It is important to recognize here that wolves learn in a manner different from dogs, and that they excel at learning by closely observing what is going on. They are insight learners, and they solve problems, such as unlatching gates, for instance, almost at once!

Some dogs may solve this, but over a very long time, and usually not at all. Captive wolves or coyotes not only learn to open their cage, but quickly open all the others as well! And they achieve this by sitting and just watching attentively – an activity wild wolves indulge in continually.

From an elevated position they rest or sit and watch, watch, watch. Many times wolves followed me and on some occasions sat beside my cabin at night, orientated towards the cabin, apparently watching what was going on.

Wolves have large heads relative to the body and at comparable skull sizes have about ten percent more brain mass than dogs. See Ray and Lorna Coppinger 2001 Dogs, pp. 42-47, 54-55.

[2] – Personal communication by Dr. Paul Paquet from research on coastal wolves in British Columbia. Wolf scat contained fur and claws of both black bears and grizzly bears.

[3] – I am grateful to Prof. Harry Frank drawing my attention to multiple motivations of wolves attacking people.