WOLVES AND PEOPLE - COFLOURISHING
Thousands of interactions occur between people and wolves with no human injuries or fatalities. But humans are not the only species to consider. In many ways, we are responsible for the well-being of other creatures on this Earth that we share.
Overall, wolves avoid humans and are naturally wary of them, especially when pups are around. However, when wolves are continuously exposed to people they are forced to adapt to our presence, and if they lose their fear of people or become food-conditioned, wolves and other large carnivores are frequently killed.
Wolves do not approach people or become food-conditioned themselves, it is a consequence of human behaviours. We all have a responsibility to help keep wolves WILD!
PROTECT. PRESERVE. CO-FLOURISH
Given the increase in human-wildlife encounters across the globe it has become necessary for animals to increase their tolerance of people and human infrastructure as a matter of survival in a human-dominated landscape. This can be viewed as “adapting” rather than “habituating”, although the process of habituation may sometimes be the required adaptation. Although individual wolves vary in their caution towards humans and infrastructure, one can expect a high tolerance of people from wolves in areas where their level of exposure to people is high and where they do not perceive humans to be a threat.
Photo: Jim Lawrence
In areas where human and wolf use overlaps frequently and exposure levels are high, wolves will show a high degree of tolerance towards people and human infrastructure yet will generally exhibit fear and avoidance in direct encounters. In such areas, wolves travelling near human developments, using campsites and human trails as travel corridors, should all be considered “normal” wolf behaviours because this reflects the ability of wolves to adapt to their surroundings. Human safety is not an issue when people behave responsibly around wolves, but when wolves become conditioned through careless or inappropriate human behaviour they can become potentially dangerous and will pay with their life.
Wild wolves are rarely a threat to human safety but attacks on people have been documented. Almost all such cases involve wolves that were habituated to some extent by people, usually through food conditioning. Wolves pose little threat to human safety when people behave responsibly around wolves.
Fed wolves are dead wolves. Never be careless with food or attractants.
Show respect. Getting that close-up photo or a seeking a personal experience with a wolf can lead to the animal ‘s death and disruption of its entire family.
Understanding the behaviour of wolves and what causes conflicts among people is instrumental to predicting and thus preventing negative encounters from occurring.
Demand Behaviour (definition): Demand behaviour can be displayed in food-conditioned wolves that actively seek and solicit food rewards from people. Food sharing is an adaptive social behaviour in wolves, and it is common for dominant wolves to solicit food from other pack individuals, as well as for subordinate wolves to challenge their partners for access to food. Food-conditioned wolves that have learned to associate humans with food may display this type of food-sharing behaviour towards humans in an attempt to access handouts. Demand behaviour may include shadowing, directly approaching a person, or grabbing at a stimulus (knapsack, sleeping bag, or whatever).
There is almost no safety threat posed by wild (i.e. unhabituated) wolves to people. When wolves receive any type of food reward, which they associate with people, they can gradually lose their fear of people, which can lead to conflicts.
Wolves will feed on garbage and human scraps, but when this behaviour begins, wolves are usually still wary of people. Food conditioning in wolves takes time and repeated encounters.
Food-conditioned wolves can be destructive to personal property (e.g. camping gear, food containers, etc.) when seeking food rewards associated with people. This is termed "demand behaviour" and can create animosity towards wild animals. However, human behaviour is the determining factor in preventing habituation of wolves and establishing coexistence and must be addressed as such.
In cases where individual wolves in Yellowstone National Park exhibit behaviour associated with approaching people, Park staff have found aversive conditioning tailored to wild canids to be effective at changing wolf behaviour. However, the key to keep wolves wild lies in PREVENTION.
Wolf Awareness recommends three prevention-based concepts to help ensure that
WOLVES STAY WILD
1. Do not feed wolves. Ensure that NO attractants can be accessed by wolves. EVER.
Feeding a wolf can lead to the death of the animal and to human injury. As with bears and other wildlife, wolves that learn how to get human foods even once may attempt to do so again. This includes actively feeding wolves and passive or indirect feeding, such as being careless with food and waste handling and storage. When a wolf receives a food reward from a human source it leads to the animal becoming food conditioned and will ultimately result in the death of the animal. Control of human-generated food and garbage is essential to prevent wolves from accessing unnatural foods. Feeding a wolf or acting careless with attractants is strictly prohibited and punishable by law.
2. Dogs attract wolves. Dogs may attract wolves and are prone to conflict when in an established wolf territory. Interfering in a dog-wolf encounter may result in injury. Wolves often react protectively towards dogs in their territory, endangering both wild and domestic canids. It is highly recommended that dogs be left at home, for the safety of both dogs and wolves. Dogs should always remain on leash when in wolf-country. (See more below on dogs).
3. Give wolves space. Prevent habituation; do not approach wolves or encourage them to get close. Instead, wolves should be given a wide berth by anticipating travel and retreating or stopping so the animal can move through, around or away from people. This will reduce encounters. Do not allow a wolf to approach within 100 metres. Respect wildlife; don’t linger for more than a few minutes. If a wolf approaches frequently or is being persistent, leave the area immediately to prevent further habituation. If you come across an active den-site, leave the area.
Experts suggest that early humans first encountered wolves after moving into Eurasia about 40,000 years ago. Sharing many behavioural similarities, wolves and humans co-evolved, and our reciprocal relationship blossomed into one of the closest bonds between two species that has ever existed – wolves are the ancestors of domestic dogs. However, because wolves are territorial canids - they don't often mix well with dogs.
Wolves and dogs don't mix. Dogs can be a very strong attractant to wolves, cougars and bears even when leashed, especially at certain times of year.
Wolves, who are sensitive and territorial, react defensively to all canids (wolves, dogs, and coyotes) to protect their family pack. To wolves, a dog may be a threat to their family; which can incite protective behaviour and can lead to conflict. This is normal behaviour for wolves, especially when pups are young and vulnerable. Even leashed dogs can incite conflicts with wolves, as well as cougars and bears.
Although wolves do everything they can to communicate to other canids to stay out of their territory (scent-marking, howling, patrolling), dogs and people rarely understand their meaning. It is safer for everyone to keep Fido on a leash in natural areas, or better yet at home. In more remote communities, wolves may be drawn in to areas with dogs. Considering that dogs now cover the globe and have brought disease and genetic swamping to their wild counterparts, we must accept that wolves need space too. In order protect our dogs – as well as their ancestors – we need to keep them separate from eachother.