Wolves tend to be mainly grey or brown in colour but they can be various colours depending on their location. Grey Wolves in the Arctic areas are usually white but in other areas they can be black in colour.
They can be highly social and they live in average packs of 2 - 36 individuals but more commonly a pack will consist of a family group of 8 - 12 wolves. There is a clearly defined hierarchy within each pack, led by the alpha pair that helps to maintain order.
The pack patrol, scent mark and defend a territory
The pack members communicate with each other by crouching, rolling over and chin touching or using vocalizations such as howling before or after a hunt.
Grey Wolves are apex predators, so other than humans, few animals will prey upon them.
Grey Wolves tend to occupy a wide range of habitats including the arctic tundra, open woodlands, forests, grasslands and arid landscapes. They can be found in North America, Greenland, Europe and Asia and they were once the world's most widely ranging member of the dog family, but due to human persecution and habitat destruction their range has been reduced. Food is extremely variable, but the majority comprises large ungulates (moose, caribou, deer, elk, wild boar, etc.). Wolves will also eat smaller prey items, livestock, carrion, and garbage. ). Over the last twenty years, wolves have started to recolonise areas from which they had disappeared (France, northern Italy, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Switzerland).
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However, distribution is extremely uneven and population densities vary greatly. Several countries (e.g. France, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Switzerland) have very small and recently established populations compared with neighbouring countries and areas of similar conservation condition in other parts of Europe. Genetic isolation and dependence on source populations in other countries may increase the fragility of some populations (Czech Republic, Germany, and Hungary). Also habitat pressures and obstruction of natural corridors for movement may limit scope for the wolf's natural dispersal, expansion and recolonisation at the subregional or broader scale.
Grey Wolves are carnivores and their prey depend upon their geographic location, availability and if they are hunting alone or together as a pack.
If hunting as a pack they will prey upon large ungulates such as moose, bison and reindeer. If hunting alone they will take small mammals such as beavers, rabbits or rodents. They will also eat carrion or rubbish if it is available.
Mating is normally happens in Jan to March. After a gestation period of 9 weeks, Grey Wolves give birth to 2 - 10 pups. Litter size is between 1 - 11 pups. At birth they weigh approximately 450 g (15.8 oz) and they are ready to leave their den at 8 - 10 weeks old. They are cared for by all members of the pack and they reach sexual maturity at 2 - 3 years of age.
1.6: Major Threats
Their original worldwide range has been reduced by about one-third, primarily in developed areas of Europe, Asia, Mexico, and the United States by poisoning and deliberate persecution due to depredation on livestock. Since the 1970s, legal protection, land-use changes, and rural human population shifts to cities have arrested wolf population declines and fostered natural recolonization in parts of Western Europe and the United States. Continued threats include competition with humans for livestock, especially in developing countries; there is a larger concern by the public in relation to the threat and danger of wolves, and fragmentation of habitat, with resulting areas becoming too small for wolf populations with long-term viability. Factors of conflict include livestock depredation, competition with hunters, predation on domestic dogs, fear and wider social conflicts for which wolves become symbols. On the other hand, properly regulated wolf harvest for example the 2011/2011 Swedish wolf culls appears to be compatible with wolf conservation in many countries. In many cases it may be a prior condition for public acceptance by allowing countries to keep wolf populations at a level which is socially acceptable.
1.7: Conservation Status
This species is included in CITES Appendix II. There is a great amount of legal protection in many European countries; however, enforcement is variable and often non-existent. It occurs in many protected areas across its range. Although the Grey Wolf still faces some threats, its relatively widespread range and stable population trend mean that the species does not meet, or nearly meet, any of the criteria for the threatened categories. So it is assessed as Least Concern.
1.8: Captivity Status
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
This species lives and breeds well in captivity and are common in many zoological gardens.
1.9: Data Collection
There are no standardised data collection methods or standards across Europe. A limited number of countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland,) use standardised snow- and radio-tracking and DNA-based methods, whilst others conduct organised surveys of pack distribution and presence.
Some countries base population data on 'official' estimates from forestry or hunting districts.
2: People's attitudes towards wolves
Swedes which live in areas where carnivores are found have a positive attitude towards them and the Swedish approach to managing them.
Attitudes to large carnivores in Sweden were studied in a big survey in 2004. A questionnaire was sent to 11,418 people in Sweden. The questionnaire included questions about large carnivores and carnivore management.
Some key findings of the survey:
The majority of people living in areas where carnivores are found have a positive attitude towards them.
The survey confirmed that people's attitudes towards the predators probably changes when the animals recolonise parts of their former range.
A majority also consider that those with a particular interest in predator issues should be given a say in their management. This applies to nature conservation bodies as well as people directly affected by the predators, for example hunters, farmers and the Sami (Lapp) people.
3: Northern Europe wolf history
3.1: History of the wolf in Sweden
The Swedish wolf population has been very low since the 1940Â´s. Most of these wolves were rapidly killed, some legally and some illegally. In the winter 1979-80 there was only one officially known wolf left in Sweden.
In the winter 1980-81 a single male and a single female wolf were tracked and in the winter of 1983 they were seen together and in the spring a litter of six pups was born in northern Värmland. This may have been the first litter in this century to be in the south area of the reindeer-management area.
From Walker's paper in 2002, Ellegren and his colleagues from Uppsala University tracked the pack's origins by using microsatellites and proved that the single pair in the 1980's started the first pack. The team showed that the pair of wolves had made the 620-mile (1,000-kilometer) journey from Finland to start a new Scandinavian pack.
In southern Dalarna and south-eastern Värmland a new pack was formed in 1992-93 and they had pups in 1993. In 1995 two litters were born, one in south-eastern Värmland and one in Dalarna (the new pack).
In the late winter 1995/96 it was estimated that the wolf population in Sweden was 35-40 animals.
The wolves had been granted government protections since the 1960s in Sweden and the 1970s in Norway that made it illegal to shoot wolves in the wild.
Föreningen Varggruppen (The wolf group in Sweden) is dedicated to the carnivores (mainly wolves, bears, lynxes,) in Scandinavia. The organisation was founded in 1983 by a number of people who came together to study wolves and wolf behaviour and are still very active today.
4: Northern Europe's present wolf history
In Owen's paper in 2006 in the National Geographic, he describes that many rural communities have brought strong opposition to wolf conservation, saying the wild predators kill their livestock and hunting dogs. But public opinion in Norway, which has a large rural population, has tended to side against the wolf, and in Sweden the carnivore also appears to be losing support. In both these countries grey wolves are been killed illegally which in turn the populations become isolated from each other and inbreeding occurs. The wolf population's stronghold tends to be in the densely forested central southern part of the Scandinavian region.
In 2005 a sheep farmer was put into prison for six months after illegally killing a wolf to protect his sheep. Since then the farming and hunting lobby won a case to kill wolves that pose a threat to fenced livestock. The main problem for the Swedish wolf populations is in the northern third of Sweden [part of Lapland] which is the reindeer husbandry area, and the Saami herders say they will not tolerate any wolves at all.
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In Walker's paper in 2002, Linnell from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) says "reindeer, central to the lives of the nomadic Saami people, graze year-round in the mountains and forests and are prime prey for wolves. Sheep flocks, easy pickings for a hungry pack, also range across Norway and Sweden".
Since the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe program which started in 1995, people's attitudes toward conservation may have become more positive. Also Ellegren also suggests that to improve the situation for threatened wolves ""it may be important to arrange having 'genetic corridors' to allow immigration from each country".
5: Northern Europe wolf managment plan
5.1: Swedish wolf policy
The Swedish Parliament in 2009 decided to introduce a quota to hunt the wolves beginning in the winter of 2009-2010, and to take measures to help the inbred Swedish wolf population. The reasoning behind this was to increase general acceptance of the wolf, and at the same time improve the genetic status of the population. Since the 1970s three adult wolves entered Sweden and bred and then in 2007 another wolf entered Sweden to help decrease the inbreeding of the population.
The Swedish Parliament has also decided that wolf numbers should be managed in the reindeer areas for example 25 wolves maximum in the North (EPA 2011). In middle of Sweden the maximum of wolves in this area shall be only 12 (EPA 2011). The most recent census of the wolf population from 2010/2011 shows that there was about 210 to 230 wolves before the licensed hunting began.
The government wants a goal of 20 reproducing females so that the population will not exceed 210 animals. So the EPA (Swedish Environmental Protection Agency) decided the quota for 2010 was 27 wolves and in 2011, 28 wolves were killed.
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, the Swedish Association for Predators, the World Wide Fund for Nature, and Animal Welfare Sweden all filled a complaint against Sweden to the EU Commission regarding the quota to hunt wolves. Since the complaint was issued now the Swedish Parliament wants to improve the genetics of the Swedish wolf population by introducing wolves from Finland, this goal may be reached by natural migration corridors or by translocating wolves. Both pups and adult wolves will have to translocated due to the social structure of he wolf.
The role of the EPA is:
Prepare compensation for injuries caused by predators
Monitor the regulations for hunting
Confirm wildlife census results
5.2: The Bern Convention
The Bern Convention is better known as the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitat which is legal binding contract which covers the whole of the European continent and extends to some States of
Africa. It was signed in Switzerland in1979, and came into force in 1982.
The Bern Convention agrees on the actions of European countries adopting the same common standards and policies for the sustainable use of biological diversity. The Convention also gives special attention to the conservation of the wild flora and fauna species listed in Appendices I and II which wolves are part of. Under the Bern Convention, the main goal of wolf conservation is to maintain existing populations and to prevent their decline and secure them by gaining public acceptance and support.
5.3: Wolf Conservation Principles (Wolf Specialist group)
Scientific knowledge of the role of the wolf in ecosystems is very poor in most countries in which the wolf still exists and management should be based only on firm scientific bases.
The maintenance of wolves for example giving compensation for the loss of domestic stock.
A change in public attitudes towards the wolf in nature for example broadcast campaigns or distribution of information and educational material and tourism
Zoning in each country for wolf populations for example in national parks or in special conservation areas.
Research on wolves for example more surveys on status and distribution of wolf populations, studies on interactions of wolves with game animals and livestock.
Norway and Sweden
Continue the maintenance in the south of the peninsula, of a viable wolf population which is shared between the two countries, while at the same time trying to minimise conflicts with sheep farming and traditional reindeer herding.
5.4: Country Population Trends
This outline table is based on Salvatori and Linnell 2005 with additional material from the Report of Seminar on Transboundary Management of Large Carnivore Populations.
100 (15 packs) with
territories; 37 individuals
in packs across Finnish-
Limited to E and S-E
regions near Russian
border, but good
Colonisation not possible in
northern Finland due to conflict with semi-domestic reindeer: livestock.
Major conflicts hunting and
domestic dogs, also some
competition with hunters for
Reservation to Convention entered with regard to wolf. Strict protection required in line with Habitats Directive except for populations in designated reindeer management area.
Protected status except in reindeer areas.
Norway plus 20-22 in
packs shared with
Sweden. Data (2004-5)
indicates 2 packs and 2
stationary pairs within
SE Norway, adjoining
Swedish border, plus
dispersing wolves elsewhere.
Low public tolerance
due to conflicts with
livestock, hunters, poaching.
Inbreeding, traffic accidents.
No formal agreement with
Sweden on management.
Latest of three management policies (approved 2003) sets target of 3 reproducing packs within the designated wolf zone along Swedish border. Outside the zone, packs and pairs should not establish once the goal of three reproductions is met, and individuals may be shot. Compensation available. Extensive monitoring system in place.
48-49 within Sweden,
plus 20-22 shared with
Norway. Data for 2004-5
suggests expansion of the
Swedish population (3
more packs, 11
stretching east from
Unlikely to establish in
north due to reindeer herding districts.
High public acceptance,
except with some hunters
and in reindeer husbandry areas (north). Sheep fencing
means livestock predation fairly low. Poaching exists.
Traffic accidents. Inbreeding
(as with other Scandinavian
Strict protection in line with Habitats Directive.
Official control permits only granted in exceptional circumstances. Wolves may establish in 60%
territory, but presence more restricted in reindeer areas. Compensation
6: Case study
Since the 1990's and 2000's the Finnish wolf population has been increasing throughout the country Monitoring is based on snow-tracking and radio-tracking. During the winter 2004 - 2005, 16 packs that were entirely within Finland, and 5 packs straddling the Finnish-Russia border, with reproduction from summer 2004 were detected on snow. There are an estimated total of 185.
Wolves are currently mainly found in eastern and south-eastern Finland close to the border with Russia. Most of Finland offers suitable wolf habitat, but the conflict potential with semi-domestic reindeer in the north will prevent their colonisation in this area. Management objectives call for an increase in wolf numbers in central and western Finland.
Legal and Conservation Status
In accordance with the Habitats Directive wolves are protected in Finland, although within the reindeer husbandry area in Lapland county Finland have an exception. In this region, licensed lethal control is intended to prevent wolf colonisation. Elsewhere in Finland lethal control is more restricted. All damage to livestock, semi-domestic reindeer
Apart from the conflict potential with semi-domestic reindeer in the north, conflicts with livestock are relatively minor. Wolf predation on dogs, both hunting dogs and farm dogs, attracts a lot of controversy, and hunters fear competition with wolves for harvestable moose. Otherwise, acceptance seems to be relatively good. The long border with the large Russian populations implies that Finnish wolves are not exposed to any of the potential genetic problems which threaten the long term future of Scandinavian wolves. In addition, the potential for immigration from Russia will buffer the Finnish population against any declines. Habitat conditions are excellent.
The most recent published data refer to the winter 2003 - 2004 when 23 - 26 wolves were detected in Norway using a combination of snow-tracking, and DNA analysis. In addition, 20 - 22 wolves were members of packs or pairs situated along the border with Sweden and use the area of both countries. Preliminary data available for 2004 - 2005 indicated 2 packs and 2 stationary pairs in Norway, although one of these packs was dissolved and both pairs were removed following sanctioned lethal control in early 2005.
Stable wolf packs are confined to south-eastern Norway, in the counties of Hedmark, Akershus and Østfold. This area adjoins the Swedish border.
Dispersing wolves from this area have been detected in many parts of southern, central and northern Norway.
Legal and Conservation Status:
In accordance with Bern Convention requirements wolves are protected, although permits for lethal control are occasionally issued in response to livestock depredation or to enforce Norway's zoning policy. During recent years this control has involved both local hunters and state game wardens. In
May 2003 parliament approved a new large carnivore management policy which set a target of 3 reproducing packs within Norway, in addition to an unspecified number of packs along the border. It also designated a wolf zone along the border with Sweden with the intention of not permitting wolf packs to establish outside this zone.
All damage to livestock, semi-domestic reindeer and domestic dogs are compensated by the State.
Public tolerance to wolves is low in Norway. This is partly due to the large potential conflicts with free-ranging and unprotected livestock (both domestic sheep and semi-domestic reindeer), wolf predation on hunting dogs. The present goals call for a population size that will never be stable, let alone viable, without contact with Sweden, but at present there is no formal agreement between the two countries on wolf management. In addition to lethal control, poaching is a widespread issue, with documented cases of wolf shooting, and the use of poison baits. Wolves have also been killed in collisions with both cars and trains. On a longer time scale, inbreeding is an issue as the entire
Scandinavian population is descended from 3 individuals. Habitat conditions are excellent.
The most recent published data based on snow tracking, radio-telemetry and DNA analysis refer to the winter 2003-2004 when 48 - 49 wolves were found entirely within Sweden - with 36-37 wolves distributed among 6 packs and 12 wolves in 6 stationary scent-marking pairs. In addition to these 20 - 22 wolves were members of 3 packs and 3 pairs straddling the border with Norway and using both countries. Preliminary data from winter 2004 - 2005 indicates an increase in the Swedish population with 9 packs and 6 pairs entirely within Sweden and 3 packs and 3 pairs straddling the border.
Resident wolves are confined to a broad strip across south-central Sweden, stretching from the Norwegian border in the west, almost to the Baltic coast, and lying between 59 and 61 degrees north. The presence of the reindeer-herding districts in northern Sweden implies that wolves are unlikely to be allowed to establish a significant presence in the north.
Legal and Conservation Status:
In accordance with both the Bern Convention and the Habitats Directive wolves are protected in Sweden. Lethal control is applied only in very occasional circumstances. The Swedish parliament passed a carnivore policy in 2000 which calls for a short term goal of 20 wolf packs (approximately 200 wolves),
The distribution range of wolf in Sweden action plan has existed since 2000, updated in 2003. All damage to livestock, semi-domestic reindeer and domestic dogs are compensated by the State, but the system for semi-domestic reindeer is mainly based on paying for the presence of carnivores rather than the damage suffered.
Public acceptance for wolves in Sweden appears to be relatively high, although significant conflicts exist with hunters because of wolf predation on hunting dogs and potential competition for wild ungulates. Most sheep in Sweden are fenced such that wolf depredation is relatively low. Poaching has been documented in Sweden, and is believed to be a serious threat. In addition a few animals are killed each year in collisions with vehicles. On a longer time scale, inbreeding is an issue as the entire Scandinavian population is descended from 3 individuals. Habitat conditions are excellent.
7: Swedish wolf hunts
In 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 Sweden had agreed to quota limited culls of wolves by hunters. The main reasons for the hunting is that the population is built on an extremely narrow genetic base and inbreeding coefficients are very high and then Swedish scientists have made models which show it is apparent that the long term viability of the population depends both on the expansion of the genetic base and on the size of the population. Sweden has a much organised proactive mitigation system with electric fences being widely promoted and adopted. In addition, sheep farmers receive compensation for losses. The rural communities of Northern Europe express fear for their personal safety from the threat of direct wolf attack or the transmission of zoonosis.
Here are some of the management plans from the LCIE ( A large carnivore initiative for Europe)
Consider wolf hunting in relation to the total mortality for example illegal hunting, vehicle collisions
Monitoring and wolf management should be based on the census of packs and not by the number of individuals.
A temporary hunt freeze until the wolf population is stable in Norway and Sweden as the long term of the population depends both on its size and genetic variation.
Plans for genetic reinforcement of the population is carried out
Monitor hunts is see if it increases rural acceptance for wolf presence on the basis of a social conflict.
In conclusion, the LCIE is open to consider the Swedish wolf hunt as a temporary trial to test possible approaches to improving the population's potential to reach a more favourable status in the near future.
The large carnivore initiative for Europe also believes that conservation should be conducted within the frames of robust scientific knowledge.
8: Grants and compensation for damage
The reindeer's in Sweden is the main animal which is killed by wolves and the two compensation systems is one outside and one within the reindeer herding area.
In 2010 most of the funding SEK 48.5 million (4.7 million UK pounds) is allocated for the 51 Sami communities.
Since the grant laws changed in the 1990s, Sami communities now only receive compensation for the presence of wolves. The wildlife damager centre has been testing predator proof electricity fences and found some good results. It has been shown that only a few individual wolves can be responsible for much of the damage caused.
All damage caused by wild animals has been put in a database called Rovdjursforum ("Predator Forum"). Rovdjursforum is a useful tool for monitoring changes in predator populations and makes it easier to predict where measures will be needed. In 2009 SEK 4,1 million ( £402,000) was paid out for prevent of damage by predators.
If a dog is killed the compensation is SEK 20,000 (£1,963) and SEK 2,000 (£196) for an injured dog. In 2009 there were 46 wolf attacks on dogs.
Throughout history the Grey Wolf has been driven to the brink of extinction due to the attitudes and actions of humans
A number of conclusions can be made from this essay:
The quality of data available on wolf numbers and distributions varies widely throughout Europe; reducing this gap in data quality should be addressed.
Human acceptance of wolves appears to be a major problem in many areas, especially in areas where wolves have returned after an absence. Understanding the reasons why acceptance varies so much between countries could be important for finding solutions.
Human caused mortality, either through hunter harvest, official lethal control, or poaching seems to be the main limiting factor for wolf populations but properly regulated wolf harvest and control appears to be compatible with wolf conservation in many countries.
Poaching is a widespread problem in many countries, there is a clear need for effective education and law enforcement throughout wolf range.