The wolf - a danger for us humans?
In 1998, a pair of wolves was sighted again for the first time since the wolves were exterminated about 150 years ago, having migrated from Poland. Two years later, this pair raised pups for the first time on the Oberlausitz military training area. The foundation stone for the return of wolves to Germany had been laid. In the monitoring year 2019/20, 128 packs, 35 wolf pairs and ten sedentary individual wolves were already living in Germany again (source: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation).
Again and again, people say that they are afraid of wolves or afraid that something could happen to their children, even though they have themselves never encountered a wolf in the wild. However, if we look at the facts, the issue should be quickly clarified.
For 20 years, there has been no proven wolf attack on a human being in Germany. But wolves are shot illegally every year. In the monitoring year 2019/20, 11 illegally killed wolves were found and in 7 others illegal shooting was detected after a traffic accident during the investigations (source: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation). The number of unreported cases is estimated to be much higher.
Nevertheless, the topic has preoccupied me in recent years. Would it be conceivable for a wolf to attack a human being?
Of course, a predator can always pose a danger. But in my personal opinion, a much greater danger comes from dogs than from wolves. But why do I think that? Quite simply, dogs are brought up or even spoiled by us. We also transfer emotions to them, which can be joy, but also aggression. Wild animals, on the other hand, know no aggression.
Nevertheless, I wanted to meet the animals in person to be able to answer this question even better. So I travelled to the west coast of Canada, to the Great Bear Rainforest. I searched for them for over 6 weeks without a sign, until 05 August 2018.
Diary entry, 05 August 2018
It's 9:30 in the morning, I've been sitting in my hide on a beautiful sandy beach for three days straight. My stomach is growling, it's cold and I'm tired. I keep looking from left to right and left again, but nothing, no coastal wolf in sight. Birds chirp around me, bald eagles and kingfishers fly by. I watch the waves. Just now the tide is coming back in and they are getting bigger and bigger. My head turns in time from left to right and left again.
And there she was.
A true beauty. So elegant, so powerful, so proud and above all so peaceful, that's exactly how I see her! She is the picture of a classic coastal wolf and absolute madness. From the colour of her fur to her long legs and rather thin body and pointed muzzle.
She is standing by the water, enjoying the first rays of sunshine of the day, sniffing the fresh air.
My camera shutter rattles, but she doesn't give me a glance. I feel like a ghost looking through a window. For her, I don't seem to exist. I get this exclusive glimpse into her life without disturbing her. My heart races, I have goose bumps all over my body, unbelievable joy flows through me. An encounter I couldn't have dreamed of more beautifully. She stands by the water for two minutes and enjoys the view before she moves on.
Diary entry, 06. August 2018
Tonight I slept particularly well. Half an hour before sunrise, another day of patient waiting began at 5:30 am. My head turns again in time from right to left and right again. Suddenly it gets quiet, I feel something, I cautiously turn around and see her.
Another, much brighter, coastal wolf. She is looking for food on the beach. My finger is literally glued to the shutter release. Then I realise that she is approaching. Suddenly she is only about eight metres away from me. She doesn't seem to give me a glance and does her "wolf thing". But she knows I am there and is curious. Tentatively she comes closer. Suddenly she is only three metres away from me. I pull out my action camera and start talking to her, but she cares little.
As if it were the most normal thing in the world. My heart, on the other hand, beats like a marathon, not because I'm afraid, on the contrary. I have never heard of such a close
encounter. I am incredibly happy and enjoy this moment, which only lasts a few seconds until she follows her nose again.
I, on the other hand, continue to sit in my hide, shaking my head, feeling my heartbeat and goosebumps. I have the feeling that I am the one in a million who was allowed to have such an intimate experience with a wild coastal wolf.
Three quarters of a year later, I visited my coastal wolves one more time. You can watch one of the encounters HERE on YouTube.
Now, of course, there are also diseases that can affect animals and their behaviour. The best known is probably rabies. When wild animals are infected with rabies, they often lose their shyness towards humans.
However, terrestrial rabies (rabies in animals that cannot fly) has been eradicated in Germany since 2008. So this danger does not exist.
Another disease that wolves, but also other animals such as foxes, have to fight is mange. Mange is a mite disease. Mange mites are tiny arachnids that live on and in the upper layer of the skin of infected animals.
During my time among the wolves in Germany, I was able to observe a yearling wolf with mange from very close up. The animal had been fighting the mites for over 6 months at that point.
As I was photographing him, he spotted a movement of mine and looked directly into my camera without knowing who was sitting behind it, as I was of course well camouflaged. As he stood there for over a minute I looked deep into his eyes through my camera. He was totally emotionless, or rather, totally relaxed. One of his ears was drooping, probably due to the intense psychological stress of the constant itching. A few months later, the ear stood up again.
Watching him like this, I was close to tears, I had never seen such a tortured animal.
It broke my heart to know that there was
nothing I could do for him. Due to the extreme itching, the infected animals scratch themselves very often, sometimes so badly that they lose their fur and sometimes even bleed.
There are people who claim that animals suffering in this way should be "freed" from their suffering. But if this wolf had given up, he would have died long ago, I'm sure of it. On the contrary, he is a fighter and wants to live on! He has fought against this disease for too long to simply give up now.
I have photographed 12 wolves, belonging to two different subspecies, in the wild, once our European grey wolves, and the coastal wolves of Canada. I have come closer to these animals than almost anyone else. None of the wolves I observed showed the slightest signs of aggression or aggressiveness, not even the poor wolf suffering from mange.
Therefore I claim with all my experience that the probability of a wolf attacking a child or an adult human being in Germany is almost impossible! Likewise, the likelihood of you encountering a wolf yourself in a wolf area is very low!
Of course, it is important to behave correctly towards wild wolves as well as strange dogs. As with other dogs, the first rule with wild wolves is the same: do not stroke them. With wolves, of course, this is much easier to observe. Also, you must not feed it under any circumstances! That can have massive consequences.
Also, do not approach them! By approaching, the animals can feel threatened and act out of fear. If a wolf does approach a human, it is often the yearlings (one-year-old wolves). They are still curious and playful. Nevertheless, we have to make it clear to these wolves that it is not in our interest for them to approach us. Therefore, it is important to address an approaching wolf in a certain voice and make it clear to it that this is wrong. But this happens very rarely. If that doesn't help, stand tall and look confident. Do not run away under any circumstances, because the wolf is used to that from prey. His hunting instinct might kick in.
Likewise, you should not let your children play alone in the forest. Whether this is because of the wolf, or because of the 83 million people who live with you in Germany ;-)
You can find out more about how to behave towards wolves at the Federal Ministry for the Environment.
I hope I was able to give you more clarity on the subject of wolves with my experiences and show you what wonderful unique animals they are. Another article I wrote about wolves in relation to herd protection can be found HERE.
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