Wolves, Bears and Human Anti-Predator Adaptations

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Geist, Valerius., The University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada (e-mail: kendulf@shaw.ca)
Baskin, L., Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Moscow, Russia
Okhlopkov, I., Institute of kriolitozone, Yakutsk, Russia
Spilenok, I., Kronotsky Nature Reserve, Elizovo, Russia


The conservation of large carnivores and an increase in their numbers leads to increased confrontations with humans (Hererro 1985, 2002; McNay 2002). An analysis of their behavior helps to prevent such incidents. In the long history of our evolution, large predators forced on us unique behavioral security adaptations. In their early stages of evolution, hominids used mainly escaping behavior, but later created mutualism, commensalisms, and even cooperation (Sludsky, 1962) via sophisticated means of avoiding or thwarting predatory attacks (Geist 1978). While zoologists and some anthropologists such as Adrian Kortland recognized early the significance of predation in the evolution of humans, this insight is rather recent to conventional anthropology (Hart and Sussmann 2009). In time humans not only successfully avoided or thwarted predators, but also hunt them. Nevertheless, predators may systematically hunt humans to this day (Corbett 1991, Capstick 1981; Pavlov 1982, 2007; Loe, J. and E. Röskraft 2004; Lappalainen 2005; Frump 2006;Graves 2007; Moriceau 2007; Geist 2008 a, b).

One can trace the origin of the American “harmless wolf” myth to a respected Canadian biologist, Dr. C. H. Doug Clarke (1971). He investigated the killing of people by wolves in Europe and concluded, that while such attacks were real, rabid wolves essentially caused them all (Rutter and Pimlott 1968; Mech 1970). In exonerating healthy wolves, Clarke fell back on his experience with the notoriously shy Canadian continental wilderness wolves. Even so, rabid wolves are lethal (Moriceau 2007; Graves 2007). Clarke failed to notice that in the days before modern medicine normal survivors of wolf attacks could not have been bitten by rabid wolves. What is puzzling is why Clark did not see this distinction where as others, who examined much the same material, scientists, historians even laypersons (Oriani and Comincini 2002; Moriceau 2007), did differentiate between the attacks of rabid and non-rabid wolves? Flemming (1724 p. 113) in Germany, even described how the tracks and habits of such deranged wolves differed from those of healthy wolves. In pre-revolutionary France Moriceau (2007) identified over 3,000 deaths by wolves. During the 18th century in a county in northern Italy (Oriani and Comincini, 2002) there were ca. 90 cases of human mortality from wolf’s attacks. In Eastern Europe numerous cases of wolf’s killing humans have been collected (Pavlov, 1982, 2007; Graves, 2007, Stubbe 2008). Most of them occurred in Belorussia in 19th century, and in Western Urals in 1945-1949. However, wolf attacks and killings of people also happened currently, as do brown bear attacks people in Siberia (Zavatsky, 1982 Mordosov, 1993; Mordosov, 2005) as well as in North America (Hererro 1985). Wolf’s attacks happen in our days. In November 2005, an adult man was killed in by wolves in Canada (Geist, 2008a). In January 2009, in Perm’ Oblast’ (Western Urals) ten-years-old boy was caught, carried away, and killed. It is important to underline that Western Urals (Perm’ and Kirov oblast’) are inhabited by the largest wolves of Russia. Lethal wolf attacks are recorded from Finland (Lappalainen 2005), Germany (Flemming 1717); Iran (Baltazard and Ghodssi 1954), India ( Jahala and Sharma 1997; Jahala 2003; Rajpurohit 1999), Japan (Walker 2005) and other countries (Linnell et al 2002). Ironically, while there are good publications in North America about bears dangerous to humans (Hererro 1985; Stringham 2007; 2009), such detailed analysis for wolves are missing.
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