Do wolves pose a danger to humans?
According to a report titled “Wolf attacks on humans: an update for 2002-2020” by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the risks associated with a wolf attacking a human are “above zero, but far too low to calculate.”
Between 2002 and 2020, researchers found 26 fatal attacks throughout the world, with the most (12) in Turkey. In Europe and North America, the researchers found evidence for 12 attacks (with 14 victims) of which two (both in North America) were fatal, across a period of 18 years. Rabies played a significant role in most of the attacks, with 78% of victims being rabid attacks, 67 were considered predatory attacks, and 42 were provoked/defensive attacks.
To reduce the risk of wolf attacks on humans, the report suggests excluding wolves from food sources that are directly associated with humans, such as garbage dumps and landfills, and properly disposing of carcasses on farms. The report also emphasizes the importance of communicating the risks posed by wild wolves so as to reduce fear!
Let’s put the danger wolves pose to humans into context by comparing the recorded attacks with cattle for example
Wolves are generally shy and elusive animals that avoid human contact. They are also apex predators that typically prey on wild animals such as deer, elk, and wild boar. However, in rare cases, wolves have been known to attack humans, particularly in areas where their natural prey is scarce or where they have become habituated to humans.
In Europe, there have been a handful of fatal wolf attacks on humans in recent history.
On the other hand cattle attacks on humans are more common in Europe. Cattle are large, powerful animals that can be unpredictable, particularly if they feel threatened or cornered. In some cases, cattle have attacked and killed humans, particularly farmers who work with them regularly.
According to a study published in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, there were 221 recorded cattle-related fatalities in Europe between 2000 and 2015. The majority of these fatalities were caused by bulls or cows defending their young or reacting to perceived threats from humans.
In summary, while both fatal wolf attacks and fatal cattle attacks on humans occur in Europe, fatal cattle attacks are much more common. It is important to note, however, that the vast majority of interactions between humans and wolves or cattle are peaceful, and these animals are not inherently dangerous to humans.
Given that cattle pose a more significant risk to human lives should we ban cattle? The truth is there are risks in everyday life, even using a vending machine can cause fatalities. To focus on a small number of wolf attacks and use that as a justification to dismiss their introduction is bad science. The broader benefits to their return outweigh the small risk posed.
Let’s look at those benefits in the context of Can wolves save human lives?
There is evidence to suggest that wolf reintroduction could lead to a reduction in Lyme disease, which is a tick-borne illness that affects humans and animals. Ticks are the primary vector for Lyme disease, and they feed on the blood of mammals, including deer, rodents, and humans.
In areas where wolves have been reintroduced, they have been shown to prey on deer, which are a primary host for the ticks that carry Lyme disease. As a result, the reduction in deer populations can lead to a reduction in the number of ticks in the area, which in turn can reduce the incidence of Lyme disease.
This phenomenon has been observed in Yellowstone National Park, where the reintroduction of wolves in 1995 led to a reduction in the deer population, which subsequently reduced the number of ticks and cases of Lyme disease. A study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley found that there was a 50% reduction in the number of tick bites on humans in areas where wolves were present.
While the relationship between wolves and Lyme disease is not yet fully understood, it is clear that predators can play an important role in controlling disease transmission in ecosystems. In addition to reducing deer populations and therefore tick populations, wolves may also contribute to the overall health of ecosystems by culling sick and weak prey, which can help to prevent the spread of diseases.
Furthermore, A study conducted in Wisconsin found that the reintroduction of wolves in the area had a positive impact on reducing the number of road traffic collisions with deer. The study analyzed data from 1976 to 2014 and found that the presence of wolves was associated with a decrease in deer-vehicle collisions. The researchers suggest that this could be due to wolves preying on deer, reducing their population and, in turn, reducing their presence on or near roads. Additionally, the presence of wolves may alter the behaviour of deer, making them less likely to venture onto roads. Overall, the study suggests that the reintroduction of wolves can have a positive impact on reducing the number of collisions between vehicles and deer. Similar results could not be replicated by human culling of deer.
This is good news for road users and will ultimately save an unquantifiable number of lives on the roads.
In conclusion, while wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare and should not be used as a justification to dismiss their reintroduction, the benefits of their return to ecosystems and human health are significant. The presence of wolves can lead to a reduction in the incidence of tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and a decrease in the number of road traffic collisions with deer. It is important to recognize that wildlife management requires a balance between preserving the health of ecosystems and protecting human interests.
Reintroducing wolves into areas where they have been extirpated can help to restore that balance and promote the long-term health of ecosystems and human communities.