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Wolf (Canis lupus)

Wolf ( Canis lupus )

Order : Predators (Carnivora)
Subordination : Canine (Caniformia)
Family : Dogs (Canidae)
Tribe : Real dogs (Canini)
Genre : Wolf and jackal species ( Canis )
Type : wolf
Scientific name
Canis lupus
Linnaeus , 1758

The wolf ( Canis lupus ) is recently the largest predator of the canine family (Canidae). Wolves usually live in family groups, technically known as packs . The main prey in most regions are medium to large ungulates . The species has been distributed in several subspecies across Europe , much of Asia , including the Arabian Peninsula and Japan , and North America since the late Pleistocene .

Wolves were systematically persecuted in Central Europe from the 15th century, in the 19th century they were severely decimated in almost all regions of their worldwide distribution area, mainly through human hunting, and almost completely exterminated in Western and Central Europe and in Japan . The wolf has been under protection in many countries since the end of the 20th century , and populations are recovering there despite frequent illegal persecution. In many other countries, including in the Middle East, but also in parts of Europe, there is no legal protection for the wolf. Wolves are now considered a key species . In Germany, the birth of puppies was recorded for the first time in the year 2000 , since then the number of wolves and wolf packs has increased again in other parts of Central and Northern Europe. In the 2018/19 data collection period, 105 packs, 25 pairs and 13 individual territorial animals were registered in Germany; so there were a total of 143 wolf territories.

Wolves are among the most famous predators; they found their way into the myths and fairy tales of many peoples at an early stage . They are also the parent form of all domestic dogs and the secondary wild dingo .

Close-ups of a wolf


general characteristics

The fur in the area of ​​the snout is often whitish in wolves, they often have light spots above the eyes; the erect ears are short and hairy

Basically, the wolf resembles a large domestic dog , with the trunk being longer and the chest higher but narrower compared to similarly built domestic dogs . Wolves are comparatively slender with long legs. The head is relatively large with a broad forehead, a long snout and short, erect ears , which are densely hairy on the inside and point forward. The eyes are set at an angle and are also oriented forward. The bushy tail is about a third of the length of the head and torso .

The outline of the trunk and legs of a wolf is approximately a square. The back and top of the tail are often dark in color

The body sizes and weights of wolves are very different due to their extensive distribution area and partly follow Bergmann's rule . Wolves reach a head-trunk length of 1.0 to 1.6 meters, the tail length is 33 to 55 centimeters, the weight 28 to 40 kilograms. The hind foot length reaches 20 to 25 centimeters, the ear length 9 to 12 centimeters. The largest wolves live in north-central Russia as well as in Alaska and Canada ; their shoulder height is about 80 centimeters. These wolves can weigh up to 80 kilograms. The smallest wolves live in the Middle East and on the Arabian Peninsula ; their head-torso length is about 80 centimeters with a weight of around 20 kilograms and a tail length of about 29 centimeters. The female animals ( vixens ) are about 2 to 12 percent smaller than the male ( male ) and 20 to 25 percent lighter. Central European wolves lie between these extremes. Male Polish wolves from the Białowieża Primeval Forest had a mean head-trunk length of 119 centimeters and a shoulder height of 70 to 90 centimeters, while females from the same area had a mean head-trunk length of 111 centimeters (extreme values: 97 and 124 centimeters) and a shoulder height of 60 to 80 centimeters. Males from south-east Poland weighed 35 to 67 kilograms, females 27 to 50 kilograms.

The coloration is very variable, there are white, cream-colored, yellowish, reddish, brown, gray and black wolves. In the temperate zones of Europe and Asia, gray-yellow or brown-gray wolves predominate, the northern populations show larger proportions of black and white animals. Mostly, dark hairs predominate on the back and tail. The abdomen, legs and muzzle are usually much lighter in color. According to genetic studies, the black coat color in wolves is due to a mutation that first appeared in domestic dogs and later invaded the wolf population.

Skull and skeletal features

3 · 1 · 4th · 2  =  42
3 · 1 · 4th · 3
Wolf skull. The zygomatic arch below the eye socket is wide and the crest on the top of the skull is clearly formed.

The skull of the wolf is elongated, it has a total length of about 21 to 25 centimeters and is thus longer than the skull of any other type of dog. The nasal bone is slightly indented over the entire length. The teeth of the Wolf, as with all dogs per maxillary half of three cutting teeth (incisors), a canine (canine), four Vorbackenzähnen (Praemolares) and two molars (Molar) and each lower jaw three cutting teeth, a canine, four Vorbackenzähnen, but three molars . In total, wolves have 42 teeth. The premolar P 4 in the upper jaw has a length (not to be confused with the height) of more than 20 millimeters, it is called a fang and, in conjunction with the molar M 1 of the lower jaw (also known as a fang), forms crushing scissors . The molar M 2 in the upper jaw has a chewing surface of more than 100 square millimeters, which cannot be reached by any other dog species. Like all dogs, the wolf also has a penis bone (baculum). This is pointed and has a continuous notch.

Differences to the domestic dog

A wolf's snout is long and its neck muscles are strong. The head is often held at the level of the back
Czechoslovakian wolfhounds look very similar to wolves, but they have a leaner abdomen
Footstep seal of a wolf on the superficially dried, soaked ground

Domestic dogs are domesticated forms of the wolf and, like the dingo, belong to the same species ( Canis lupus ). The distinction between wolves and domestic dogs is mostly possible on the basis of a few characteristic features, whereby the extent of the differences varies greatly depending on the dog breed. Domestic dogs usually have a shorter snout than wolves. Wolves often have a light spot over the eyes, light cheeks and a whitish front of the neck; they often have a dark saddle mark on their backs . The eyes are yellow to yellow-green and are slanted. The ears, which are always erect, are usually smaller than those of domestic dogs. Due to the longer legs compared to the domestic dog, the body outline in profile (without head, neck and tail) corresponds approximately to a square; the body contour of domestic dogs, on the other hand, corresponds to a rectangle that is longer than it is high. Wolves usually let their tails ( tail ) hang down when they are at rest, domestic dogs often carry it up or curled up. In some cases, however, only a DNA analysis can be used to determine unequivocally whether an individual is a wolf, a domestic dog, or a hybrid form with ancestors from both sides.

Morphological and anatomical differences

Wolves have a vial gland on the upper side of the tail, which is absent or stunted in many domestic dogs, but forms a wide field of glands in others. Numerous differences between wolf and domestic dog can be seen in the skull in particular. Compared to domestic dog skulls, wolf skulls have a higher crest, which serves as an attachment point for the chewing muscles. The profile of a wolf skull is slightly flatter in the forehead area than that of a domestic dog. The lower incisors of the wolf are usually closer together than that of the domestic dog. The length of the fang in the upper jaw (the premolar P 4 ) is less than 20 millimeters in domestic dogs. The wolf's expansive zygomatic arches allow a straight line, assumed from the zygomatic arch to the top of the skull, to rise at a smaller angle than that of the domestic dog, whose zygomatic arches are closer. Between this straight line and the plane of the roof of the skull there is an angle (called the eye socket angle) of 40 to 45 degrees for the wolf, and 50 to 60 degrees for the domestic dog.

Other differences

Female wolves only become fertile once a year, they are monostrical , domestic dogs up to twice, they are diostrical. Male wolves only produce reproductive sperm during the mating season in winter and early spring. Domestic dogs, on the other hand, are in principle capable of reproduction at any time. Since the paw prints with the five-part pads are similar and cannot be clearly distinguished based on their size, tracks are often assigned based on their course. Wolves put their hind paws in the prints of the front paws in the snow - they lace up - in packs they often run one behind the other and put their paws in the prints of the front wolf. Then the impression arises that you are following the trail of a single wolf until the track suddenly splits into several individual tracks. The course of a wolf track is often straight and goal-oriented over hundreds of meters, while running around and deviating is typical for dogs.

distribution and habitat

Distribution area of ​​the wolf
  • currently (as of 2018)
  • exterminated
  • The wolf was originally (before the spread of Homo sapiens and the development of agriculture and grazing ) the most widespread land mammal on earth. It was native to all of Europe and Asia as well as North America. In large parts of this once huge range, especially in large parts of Western Europe and North America, the species has been wiped out by human persecution. There are even larger contiguous populations in Eastern Europe, the Balkans , Canada , Siberia , Mongolia, and to a lesser extent Iran . Otherwise, the wolf can only be found in isolated populations today (some contain fewer than 100 animals).

    Wolves inhabit a wide variety of habitats . Their high adaptability allows them to live in the arctic tundra as well as in the deserts of North America and Central Asia. Most wolves inhabit grasslands and forests; Wetlands, bushland, cultivated land, rocky regions and mountains up to an altitude of 2,400  m are also populated . Wolves became known primarily as forest animals because humans drove them out of more open landscapes in large parts of the range at an early stage.

    Way of life

    Social organization

    A wolf couple

    Wolves show distinctive social and territorial behavior . The normal social order of wolves is the pack ; individual wolves that are found in the wild have mostly left the parental pack when they reached sexual maturity in order to found their own pack. A wolf pack usually consists of the parents and their offspring, so it is a family. Different variants of this pack structure are possible, among other things, instead of a pair of parents, a male and two females can form the reproductive core of a pack. Sometimes wolves outside the pack are tolerated, mostly males no more than three years old, who join a pack temporarily, for a few days to over a year; these immigrants may later found their own territory with a young female of the pack. Young wolves usually leave their parents at the age of 10 to 54 months, so young wolves from four years of age can live in a pack. Most of the young wolves left their pack by the age of three.

    "The gibbon wolf pack takes a rest in a snowy landscape" (Wolf researcher Douglas Smith on his photo taken in Yellowstone National Park )

    The young wolves of the previous year support the parents in raising the new puppies. Under normal conditions, a pack in autumn consists of the parents, the offspring from the previous year or years and the offspring from the same year. When they reach sexual maturity, the young wolves usually migrate from their parents' territory and form their own territory, where, for example, they found their own family as a partner with a young wolf who was met on the hike and who also emigrated. As long as young wolves live in their parents' pack, they usually do not mate. When there is a shortage of food, wolves that are five months old sometimes leave the territory if their parents can no longer care for them; Young wolves are able to prey from this age. Some migrated wolves stay close to their parents' pack, others have been found at distances of up to 886 kilometers; wolves often keep the same direction of migration during long-distance hikes, avoiding towns and lakes. However, migrated wolves can also take over the position of a perished or killed parent wolf in a neighboring territory or split off their own territory on the edge of the parental or a neighboring territory. Some migrated young wolves temporarily return to their parents' pack, even several times.

    Herds include up to 36 animals; usually the pack size is five to twelve animals. Wolves, which feed primarily on small animals or waste, often form smaller packs than those who primarily prey on large ungulates such as elk and bison. In the first case, the young wolves soon leave their pack, in the latter case the young from several litters stay with their parents.

    Competitive behavior with
    threatening gestures such as bristling fur, ruffled snout, baring canine teeth and erect tail (wolves in Parc Omega, Quebec, Canada).

    The parent animals are fundamentally dominant over their offspring, there are no fights over a linear ranking, but there are conflicts that are primarily fought between wolves of different ages. Among older young animals, these conflicts usually arise within the same sex, and as a rule older ones prevail over younger ones. The result is a hierarchy that is more or less graded according to gender and age (because of the two sexes: two-tier). However, there are also conflicts between males and females; within the same age group it is mostly the males that dominate.

    Social interactions are conveyed through an abundance of visual and acoustic signals, such as facial expressions, sounds and the posture of the tail. For example, wolves, like domestic dogs, have their tails raised when they have dominant expressive behavior; a drawn-in tail, on the other hand, is a gesture of humility that is supposed to prevent a fight. Gestures of humility only have a soothing effect on other wolves if they belong to the same pack: they are ineffective in fights between animals from outside the pack.

    Wolves in captivity

    In the literature there is often a representation of a strictly linear hierarchical ranking with a dominant alpha pair , which generally produces the offspring of the pack, a group of subordinate animals and a weak animal at the end of the ranking in the role of the "whipping boy" or omega -Wolfs. These representations are the result of research on wolves in captivity and cannot be transferred to natural conditions. In captivity, wolves of different origins or family groups were usually locked together and bred. Here, neither an emigration upon reaching sexual maturity nor the avoidance of mating of related animals (associated with emigration) is possible. Conflicts are therefore frequent in these captive packs.

    Considerable efforts have to be made for safe containment: high, solid fences with undermining protection and additional electrical deterrence are required. In individual cases, animals manage to overcome these too.

    Spatial organization

    A male wolf marks his territory (Kolmårdens Zoo, Sweden)

    Wolf packs normally live in territories that are demarcated from other packs as well as from individual conspecifics and, if necessary, vehemently defended; the territories of neighboring packs therefore usually only minimally overlap. The size of the territories is essentially determined by the size of the prey species and the number of prey animals. The average size of the districts therefore varies greatly from region to region and ranges from 75 to 2500 square kilometers, in Alaska district sizes of up to 6272 square kilometers were determined. Territory sizes between 150 and 350 square kilometers were determined in Poland, in the Białowieża Forest the territories of four packs averaged 238 square kilometers. At higher latitudes, wolf territories are on average larger because the prey density is usually lower there. The districts are regularly wandered through by the pack members.

    Howling Wolf
    Wolf howl

    Urine and faeces markings are used primarily to delimit the areas . When wandering through the area, wolves drop urine marks on average about every 240 meters. For this, distinctive, above all vertical objects such as individual trees, bushes, stones or posts are selected. Male wolfs usually place urine tags in the posture known from domestic dogs with their hind legs raised, female wolves usually with one hind leg bent forward and raised. Markings are particularly intense in the area of ​​the territorial boundaries. Another means of marking the territory is the common howling of the pack members. This is often answered by neighboring packs. According to field experiments, packs that do not respond are more likely to withdraw from a howling pack, while packs that respond are willing to assert their location. In forested regions wolves can apparently hear the howling of their own species at distances of up to eleven kilometers, in the tundra up to 16 kilometers. If wolves of another pack invade the area despite olfactory (smell) and acoustic markings, they are mostly attacked. These fights are often fatal; Intraspecial fighting is one of the most common natural (non-human) causes of death in wolves.

    A wolf pack follows a beaten path in Yellowstone National Park

    In search of food, wolves can move up to 48 kilometers from their burrow or their young and can travel up to 72 kilometers within 24 hours. In the Białowieża Forest , the average daily walking distance of the wolves of four packs was 22.1 kilometers for females and 27.6 kilometers for males. Around nine percent of the district was used per day, the district parts used on consecutive days only overlapped minimally. With a high degree of probability, this serves on the one hand to be present as continuously as possible in the entire area in order to distinguish it from other conspecifics, but on the other hand presumably also to increase the hunting success, as the prey react to the prolonged presence of wolves with increased caution and evasive movements. On their forays wolves like to follow paths, paths, banks, gravel banks, frozen watercourses, mountain ridges and other terrain formations that allow them to orientate themselves easily; This presumably allows them to concentrate better on their surroundings without constantly having to assess the path immediately ahead. In some regions wolves are forced to follow the migrations of their prey for a large part of the year, such as the seasonal migrations of caribou ; they probably keep other packs at a distance by howling during this nomadic way of life.

    Diet and manner of hunting

    A wolf pack surrounds an American bison

    The wolf is a food generalist who primarily prey on animals ranging in size from hare - up to elk - and bison , but also eats fruit, carrion and household waste. The basic food of the wolf is made up of medium-sized to large herbivorous mammals in the greater part of its range. In the north, wolves hunt mainly in packs, mainly moose, reindeer and other deer species , but also musk ox . In Eurasian forests of the temperate climate zone, wild boar and in mountains wild sheep , chamois and ibex are also frequent prey. Smaller mammals such as brown hares, wild rabbits , lemmings and other voles are also captured. In North America, besides large ungulates, beavers also play an important role as prey. The huge herds of bison in North America before the arrival of the Europeans probably went hand in hand with the world's greatest density of wolves: the grasslands of the North American plains were home to an estimated 200,000 wolves, who mainly fed on bison.

    In the vicinity of human settlements, wolves also beat domestic sheep and young domestic cattle , but also domestic dogs and domestic cats , which are predators themselves . On the other hand, bisons , which are found together with wolves in the Białowieża National Park , are rarely prey by wolves. Standing at the end of a food pyramid , the wolf is a top predator . Wolves also often eat carrion, such as seal carcasses that have washed up on beaches. Leftovers and household waste are of great importance to wolves in Israel, India and China, for example; a pack of wolves observed in Minnesota also made regular night trips to a dump. Especially in southern regions of Eurasia, wolves eat fruits such as berries, cherries, apples, pears and grapes. Like domestic dogs, wolves ingest grass, possibly to clear hair or parasites from the digestive tract; But grass could also serve as a source of vitamins.

    Two wolves on the remains of a cunning doe

    Research by a team of zoologists from the University of Victoria found that wolves in the Canadian coastal province of British Columbia prefer to feed on salmon in autumn when they come up to spawn in flowing waters. In spring and summer, depending on the group of wolves examined, remains of mule deer were found in 90 to 95 percent of the analyzed lumps of excrement and only in exceptional cases remains of salmon. In autumn, the proportion of deer in most groups of wolves fell to below 80 percent, while the proportion of excrement in which salmon were detected averaged 40 percent (a maximum of almost 70 percent). Salmon fishing is easy and safe for wolves; the high-fat meat of salmon also has a higher nutritional value than that of mule deer.

    In Central Europe, roe deer, deer and wild boar dominate the food spectrum. In Slovakia, for example, wild boars were found in 45.5 percent of all wolf excrements, the second most important prey there was the red deer (23.3 percent), followed by the red fox (10.4 percent), domestic dog (7.9 percent) and deer (5, 5 percent). In Białowieża , Poland , deer (red deer and roe deer) were found in 93.1 percent of all excreta in summer and 97.0 percent in winter; there the wild boar was detectable in 47.7 percent of all excrement in summer and in 29.0 percent of excrement in winter, making it the second most important prey animal.

    Food composition of wolves in Saxony and wolves in Liguria , northwestern Italy. The percentages indicate biomass proportions calculated on the basis of faecal analyzes

    The main food of the Lusatian wolves consists of wild cloven-hoofed animals (95 percent). Deer is the most important part of the diet (53 percent), followed by red deer (21 percent) and wild boar (18 percent). Hare-like (brown hare and wild rabbit) make up four percent. The proportion of domestic animals (especially sheep) and medium-sized mammals such as nutria , red fox and raccoon dog was less than one percent in studies in Lusatia. For the Carpathians a share of livestock was given as 10 percent, for Northern Italy 26.3 percent. The share can vary greatly depending on the available food sources. Small mammals (especially voles) were rarely found as occasional prey. Birds, fish and fruits, mostly apples, have also been detected. Wild boars are mainly captured in spring, when freshlings are easy prey. Red deer calves are preferred in summer. Deer are captured with equal frequency all year round. A food selection according to age does not take place in deer: The proportion of fawns in the wolf diet roughly corresponds to the proportion of fawns in the total deer population. The mouflon , naturalized since 1970, has largely disappeared in the wolf areas. Wolves occasionally kill dogs, with some wolf populations relying on dogs as a source of food. In Croatia, wolves kill more dogs than sheep. Wolves in Russia appear to limit stray dog ​​populations. Wolf attacks on hunting dogs are considered a major problem in Scandinavia and Wisconsin.

    Wolves, corvids, and a grizzly compete for a carcass in Yellowstone National Park

    The amount of biomass that wolves prey on and eat depends on various factors such as age, body size and, above all, the size of the pack. It was found in various studies that while larger packs kill more prey than smaller ones, the amount of meat consumed per wolf is greater in smaller packs. In the Yukon Territory in northern Canada was in small wolf packs of two to three wolves Wapiti -Biomasse of 12.7 and 17.2 kg, for medium-sized packs of four to seven wolves 7.2 and 7.6 kilograms and in large packs with more than seven wolves consumed 4.6 kilograms of prey per day and wolf. The reasons for these differences lie on the one hand in the interspecific food competition with other predators, especially scavengers such as the common raven for the remains of the prey, and on the other hand in the intraspecific food competition within the wolf pack. For smaller packs, the losses from other food competitors with up to 75 percent of the prey mass are much greater than for larger packs, which hardly suffer any losses, so consumption is made up of the actual biomass consumption of the wolves and the loss by scavengers. On the basis of the metabolism rate , which indicates the energy expenditure per unit of time, a daily food requirement of 2.8 kilograms was calculated for a free-living wolf weighing 35 kilograms. According to other studies, free-living wolves prey on a daily basis that corresponds to the mass of 10 to 21 percent of their body weight; with an average weight of around 40 kilograms, this means 4.0–8.4 kilograms per day.

    The whitish color in the head area probably makes it easier for a pack hunting in the dark to identify the position of fellow species (Neuhaus Wildlife Park, Solling-Vogler Nature Park, Lower Saxony)

    At least in winter, wolves spend an average of 28 to 50 percent of their time foraging for food. Wolves usually find prey directly through their smell or by following fresh tracks; The sense of sight also plays an important role in open terrain. Pack members usually move one behind the other in a straight line through their territory, but can swarm out in confusing terrain in order to track down prey more easily. When hunting prey at night, the whitish coloration that many wolves have in the snout area may facilitate the localization of pack members. Wolves try to get close to the prey without being noticed. Large ungulates are not attacked until they flee. If the wolves do not succeed in persuading a posed animal to flee, they sometimes give up the attack after minutes, but sometimes only after hours. A fleeing animal, on the other hand, is pursued even if the wolves have just made prey and an ungulate nearby suddenly takes flight. For this reason, surplus killing occurs under certain conditions . Wolves usually select young, weak or very old animals from herds of large ungulates by running with the herd for some time. Above all, domestic animals that lack protective mechanisms against predators can be captured “in excess” without the wolves being able to utilize all the animals killed; excessive prey rarely occurs in wild prey.

    Fleeing animals are usually only pursued a few dozen meters at high speed; If the wolves do not manage to reach the prey by then, the hunt is stopped. Long chases over several kilometers are rare exceptions. Sometimes wolves try to take advantage of the terrain conditions that are favorable for them by part of the pack chasing the prey in the direction of other pack members who are in a suitable place in cover. However , there are few indications of such cooperation in prey hunting, as is common with lions . In winter, wolves try to drive ungulates onto frozen lakes or rivers, where they can easily slip with their smooth hooves. Wolves often have an advantage over ungulates even when there is a high snow cover, because they are usually heavier than wolves and their hooves sink more easily into the snow, while wolves can walk with their broad paws over a crusty snow surface.

    Ungulates up to the size of a female red deer attempt to escape by escaping. Large and well-fortified prey such as elk, bison, musk ox or even wild boar often confront wolves and often defend themselves successfully. On the other hand, individual wolves are also able to overpower a moose or musk ox. Moose often flee into the water when attacked; They are then usually not attacked any further, because their longer legs mean that they can still stand where wolves have to swim. In the forested country, an elk can throw a wolf that has bitten itself on its hind leg against a tree trunk and seriously injure it.

    Smaller ungulates are usually killed by a single, very powerful bite in the throat (thrush bite) or in the neck. Large animals, such as elk, are held up by bites in the rear, flanks, back and nose and brought down and then killed by bites in the throat. The wolves then open the abdominal cavity of the prey and first remove and eat the internal organs such as the lungs, liver, heart, intestines and kidneys; then they eat the muscle meat, especially the large muscles of the legs. At the rift there are often arguments among pack members; The (younger) wolves in the hierarchy below usually have to hold back when eating. During the first phase of feeding, large wolves can eat up to ten kilograms of meat; then they generally let go of the prey and come over and over again over the next few hours to eat other tissue parts such as skin and bone marrow. The victim is usually eaten as completely as possible. Large ungulates are used for several days and apart from large bones that wolves cannot break, the fur and parts of the intestinal tract and stomach are used. In areas with larger packs of wolves and numerous scavengers, such as Yellowstone National Park , the carcasses of the prey usually remain there for less than 48 hours until they are fully used. Corvids in particular often manage to detect a wolf tear within minutes because they prefer to be near wolves and communicate with each other by shouting.

    Any remaining prey, including entire animals, is often hidden. For example, a torn caribou calf is covered with snow, or pieces of meat that have already been devoured are choked out and deposited in a self-scratched trough, which is then pushed closed with the snout. Individual wolves can create several depots after capturing a large animal. The creation of depots is particularly important for individual wolves and small groups of wolves. Wolf depots are often plundered by other scavengers such as foxes or bears.

    Wolves that were raised in captivity without being able to train to acquire prey and that were released were able to prey independently and survived in the wild. Wolves are mostly only dependent on drinking water for thermoregulation, especially in warm areas; however, they drink when they have the opportunity, because it allows them to digest parts of the prey with a low water content, such as skin and bones. In winter, wolves get by without water, but occasionally eat snow if they are overheated after a prey hunt. Suckling wolfs likely need to drink regularly; Throwing caves should therefore probably not be far from a source of drinking.


    A wolf rests in front of its burrow

    In the wild, wolves usually reach sexual maturity at two years of age, captive wolves sometimes at nine to ten months, and domestic dogs at seven to eleven months. However, some wild wolves are only able to reproduce at four or five years of age. In Central Europe, the mating season falls in late winter and early spring from late January to early March. However, female wolves are usually only ready for conception for about a week. As with many species from the dog family, mating is completed by what is known as "hanging", whereby the swollen penis is held in the vagina for up to half an hour . Inbreeding is rare in wild wolves and occurs especially where all wolves are closely related, for example on the 535 square kilometer Isle Royale in Lake Superior.

    The gestation period is nine weeks. Before the young are born, a cave is usually dug or taken over by other mammals such as foxes and enlarged; Both the parents and the young wolves from the previous year participate in the digging. The caves have one or more entrances. Hollow tree trunks, rock caves and pits dug into the ground also serve as burrows. In general, the burrows are close to the water and at a considerable distance from the territorial boundaries. About a month before birth, some pregnant females usually no longer leave the cave area and are then taken care of by pack members.

    Age stages of wolves of the subspecies Mackenzie wolf ( Canis lupus occidentalis ): newborn; three weeks old; two months old; fully grown at one year

    The boys are born under construction. A litter consists of one to eleven, usually four to six, puppies. The newborn, still blind and deaf puppies weigh 300 to 500 grams and have a fine, dark coat. The eyes open after 11 to 15 days, the puppies can now run, growl and chew. The first teeth can also be seen. Around the 20th day the boys begin to hear sounds, leave the cave for the first time and play with siblings and older family members. From around this age the puppies can also eat solid food, but they will still be suckled until they are six to eight weeks old. The pack members returning with food are sniffed by the pups by the mouth and their snout is clasped with their own snout, whereupon they choke up food. In the first eight weeks of life, the she-wolf sometimes carries the pups to another den. Fixed teeth grow in the 16th to 20th week of life, and skeletal growth is complete after about a year.

    Age and Mortality

    Long-term studies in Minnesota have shown that wolves living in the wild can reach a maximum age of 10 to 13 years. In captivity, wolves can live to be 16 to 17 years old. The mortality is high, especially in the first two years of life. The numerically most significant natural mortality factors are injuries from fights with alien wolves and starvation. In addition, diseases such as rabies , canine distemper , parvovirus , mange and borreliosis play a role. Populations in contact with humans are particularly threatened by them, the most common mortality factors here are hunting , poisoning and accidents involving animals . Wolf pups are occasionally preyed on by the lynx .


    External system

    Phylogenetic system of the genus Canis according to Koepfli et al. 2015
     CanisLycaon  and  Cuon  

     Lycaon pictus (African wild dog)


     Cuon alpinus (red dog)


     Canis aureus (golden jackal)


     Canis simensis (Ethiopian wolf)


     Canis anthus  (African gold wolf)


     Canis latrans (coyote)


     Canis lupus (wolf + domestic dog )


     Canis mesomelas ( black-backed jackal)


     Canis adustus (striped jackal)

    Template: Klade / Maintenance / Style

    On the occasion of their presentation of the genome sequence of the domestic dog , Lindblad-Toh et al. 2005 a phylogenetic analysis of the dogs (Canidae) based on molecular biological data . They contrasted the wolf (including the domestic dog) with the coyote as a sister species . They assigned the golden jackal ( Canis aureus ) as a sister species to this taxon , which consists of wolf and coyote . In this research work, the monophyly of the wolf and jackal-like (genus Canis ) was questioned, since the striped jackal ( Canis adustus ) and the black-backed jackal ( Canis mesomelas ) are sister species and all other representatives of the genus as well as the red dog ( Cuon alpinus ) and the African wild dog ( Lycaon pictus ) being faced. Red dog and African wild dog would have to be included in the genus Canis so that it can survive as a monophyletic genus, i.e. to represent a closed community of descent. The red wolf ( Canis rufus ) was not included in this work.

    Further DNA analyzes in 2011 showed that the animals, formerly classified as an Egyptian subspecies of the golden jackal ( Canis aureus lupaster or now Canis anthus lupaster ), are genetically very different from other golden jackals. These Egyptian canids, whose resemblance to Indian wolves ( Canis lupus pallipes ) was already noticed by zoologists in the 19th century, are genetically related to wolves. They are also significantly larger and longer-legged than Eurasian golden jackals. In addition to the Egyptian animals, representatives of this form have also been detected in the highlands of Ethiopia 2500 kilometers southeast. In 2015, all canids previously classified as African golden jackals were finally described as African golden wolf ( Canis anthus ) and thus as a new species and placed in the direct relationship of the wolf and the coyote. As a result, only the Eurasian representatives of the animals formerly classified as golden jackals belong to the species golden jackal.

    Internal system

    The division of the species wolf into subspecies is controversial; even if genetic characteristics are included (with the help of the mitochondrial DNA method ) the results are inconclusive. This is due, among other things, to the fact that wolves regularly undertake long migrations, which result in a mixing of the gene pools . Nevertheless, it has largely been agreed on a division into eleven living and two extinct subspecies. The domestic dog ( Canis lupus familiaris ) as well as the Australian dingo ( Canis lupus dingo ) and the New Guinea dingo , which has been added to them , are subspecies of the wolf created by domestication .

    The following subspecies are currently recognized:

    Arctic wolf ( Canis lupus arctos )
    Timber Wolf ( Canis lupus lycaon )
    • Buffalo Wolf ( Canis l. Nubilus ); southern Rocky Mountains, Midwest, eastern and northeastern Canada, southwesternmost Canada, and southeastern Alaska; medium-sized, usually gray, black, yellow-brown or reddish; legally hunted in parts of Canada, stable
    • Dingo ( C. l. Dingo ); Australia, developed from feral domestic dogs
    • Eurasian wolf ( C. l. Lupus ); Europe, Russia, China, Mongolia, Himalaya; average size, usually short, gray-brown fur; the most widespread subspecies in Europe and Asia, an estimated 100,000; legally hunted in some areas, protected, stable in others
    • Indian wolf ( C. l. Pallipes ); Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India; very small subspecies; typically yellow-brown, sand-colored or reddish with very short, thick fur; pursued as a pest, endangered, declining. May represent a species in its own right.
    • Caspian wolf ( C. l. Cubanensis ); between the Black and Caspian Seas; relatively small; pursued as a pest, endangered, declining
    • Mackenzie Wolf ( C. I. occidentalis ); Alaska, Northern Rockies, Western and Central Canada; very large; mostly black or a mixed gray or brown, but the entire color spectrum is represented; this subspecies was reintroduced in 1995 in Yellowstone National Park and Idaho; legally hunted in Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana as well as parts of Canada, otherwise protected, stable
    • Mexican wolf ( C. l. Baileyi ); Central Mexico, west Texas, southern New Mexico, and Arizona; smaller subspecies, mostly yellow-brown or rust-colored; reintroduced in Arizona in 1998, the number of wild animals is 35-50; critically endangered and protected
    • Arctic wolf ( C. lupus arctos ); Canadian Arctic, Greenland; medium-sized, white or creamy white with long fur; legally hunted, stable
    • Russian wolf ( C. l. Communis ); Central Russia; very large; legally hunted; stable or declining
    • Timberwolf ( C. I. lycaon ); Southeast Canada, Eastern United States; larger subspecies, very variable coat color from white to black, but mostly brown; legally hunted in parts of Canada, endangered
    • Tundra wolf ( C. I. albus ); northern Russia, Siberia; relatively large, typically creamy white or gray; legally hunted, stable

    Two other subspecies that were native to Japan have become extinct: the Hokkaidō wolf ( C. l. Hattai ) from the island of Hokkaido, a smaller subspecies that was exterminated in 1889 due to poisoning, and the Honshū wolf ( C. . l. hodophilax ) from the Japanese islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. It was the smallest known subspecies; it died out in 1905 due to rabies and human stalking. Another extinct subspecies was described by Sicily in 2018 : Canis lupus cristaldii , which probably disappeared in the 1940s, but possibly not until the 1970s. The shape is smaller and lighter in color than the close relatives of the Italian Peninsula .

    Arabian wolf (formerly Canis lupus arabs )

    In addition to these subspecies, numerous other subspecies have been described and partially recognized in the past. In Asia, this applies to the Himalayan wolf ( C. l. Himalayensis ) of the Tibetan highlands, the Tibetan wolf (formerly C. l. Chanco ) from the area between the Trans Caspian and the Far East and the Arabian wolf (formerly C. l. arabs ) in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman. According to genetic studies from 2017, the former could form an independent taxonomic unit, with a subspecies or species status being discussed. In Europe, the Iberian wolf (formerly C. l. Signatus ) in Spain and northern Portugal and the Italian wolf (formerly C. l. Italicus ) on the Italian peninsula were considered separate subspecies. In the case of the Italian wolf, according to genetic studies from 2017, two haplotypes that only occur in the local population suggest that it may be a separate subspecies after all. On the other hand, the independence of the Caspian wolf is questioned because, according to other genetic studies, it shares several haplotypes with the wolves of Western Asia and Eastern Europe and is thus exposed to a constant gene flow .

    Existence and endangerment

    stone as a memorial for the slaughter of the last free-living wolf in Westphalia near Ascheberg

    The wolf as a species is not endangered due to its large distribution area ( IUCN least concern .) However, since the 19th century it has been considered extinct in large parts of northern and central Europe and Great Britain , as well as in some states of the USA , partly in Mexico and in Japan , and the rest of the regions as severely decimated. According to the IUCN, the main cause is human persecution because wolves prey on grazing cattle and ungulates living in the wild and because of "exaggerated concern by the public" about the dangers of wolves. In addition, the fragmentation of habitats plays an important role in the decline in wolf populations. In the mid to late 20th century, North America had major populations only in Alaska and Canada and the US state of Minnesota , and some isolated populations in various other regions of the United States. European wolf populations still existed in Galicia , Croatia , Carniola , Serbia , Bosnia and Herzegovina , Romania , Bulgaria , Greece and Albania , in Poland , Slovakia and Russia . Smaller occurrences were also found in the mountain regions of Italy , Spain and Portugal as well as Sweden , Norway and Finland . The wolf remained widespread in Asia, for example in Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan , Tajikistan , Uzbekistan , Turkmenistan , Afghanistan , Mongolia , China , India , Korea , Iraq , Iran , Turkey , Armenia , Georgia , Azerbaijan , Saudi Arabia , Syria and Israel . However, data and figures on this are considered fragmentary and insufficient.

    Although wolves have been under increasing international protection since the 1970s and direct hunting is prohibited in most countries, they are still actively pursued. In some countries there are still official hunting quotas, poaching and illegal shooting are also a problem . According to information from WWF Germany , at least 18 wolves have been illegally killed in Germany in recent years. Institutions of international and regional nature conservation and measures of wolf management counteract the image of the "bad wolf" and try to change the social perception.

    Stock in Europe

    Wolf populations in Europe and estimated population numbers (based on incomplete monitoring data)

    Wolf populations have been stable or increasing in many European countries since the beginning of the 21st century; particularly in Albania, Finland, Macedonia, Portugal and in the Spanish Sierra Morena, however, there was a decline in the population. According to surveys by wolf monitoring in the years between 2009 and 2013, there were around 12,000 to 18,000 wolves in Europe, excluding the populations in Russia and Ukraine. In 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) put the total European population (excluding Russia) at more than 17,000 wolves, for the 28 states of the European Union at a total of 13,000 to 14,000 wolves. The range of the species increased after extreme declines in the 1960s and 1970s and partially extends again to regions in which the wolf was extinct. For Europe as a whole, the IUCN in 2018 ordered the species in the category does not endanger one (English Least Concern ), the quantity and quality of monitoring data in European countries is very different. The Large Carnivores for Europe initiative (LCIE) - a working group of the Commission for the Conservation of Species of the IUCN - differentiates ten populations of the wolf in Europe, which are classified by the IUCN as subpopulations of a pan-European "metapopulation" due to the genetic exchange between the populations.

    region population EU countries Non-EU countries  IUCN Red List (as of 2018)
    Iberia Northwest Spain, Portugal NT - Potentially Endangered
    Sierra Morena Spain CR (D) - Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)
    Alpine / Italy Western alps France, Italy Switzerland VU (D1) - endangered
    Italian peninsula Italy NT - Potentially Endangered
    Dinaric Balkans Dinaric Balkans Slovenia, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania LC - not at risk
    Carpathians Carpathian Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Romania Ukraine, Serbia LC - not at risk
    Scandinavia Scandinavian Sweden Norway VU (D1) - endangered
    Northeast Europe Karelian Finland Russia NT - Potentially Endangered
    Baltic Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland Russia, Belarus, Ukraine LC - not at risk
    Central Europe Central European plain Germany, Poland VU (D1) - endangered

    Central European lowland population

    Since the term “German-West Polish population” used earlier does not correspond to the geographical distribution of this population, the name “Central European population” was proposed instead. In the updated status report for the European Commission, this population is called "Central European Lowland Population".

    Recent research shows that, contrary to previous assumptions , the populations in Germany and western Poland neither form an independent population nor are they largely isolated, but merely represent the western edge of a significantly larger, north-east European-Baltic population, which extends from Russia to Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein extends. Immigration of animals from north-eastern Poland to western Poland and Germany, but also return migrations in an easterly direction, are not an isolated case, but rather frequent. The inbreeding coefficient determined for the population in Brandenburg, for example, is 0.01 and is therefore comparatively low. After puppies of a wolf pair were documented for the first time in 2018 in the Bavarian Forest, whose parents come from different populations (north-eastern European-Baltic and Abruzzo-alpine), it is to be expected in the medium term that both populations will recombine within a large (meta) population.

    While there were six adult wolves in Germany in 2005 and 13 adult wolves in western Poland, in 2012 there were already 14 packs and three couples loyal to the territory in Germany, and 22 packs and two pairs in Poland. The number of all adult wolves was then estimated at around 150. In 2013, a total of 24 wolf packs or pairs and four individual wolves were detected in Germany. In 2016 there were 120 to 130 adult wolves in Germany, divided into 46 wolf packs, 15 wolf pairs and four sedentary solitary wolves. In 2014, more packs were also added in Poland. A population of 31 wolf pairs established itself there; in the previous monitoring period there were 26 packs. In the 2017/18 data collection period, there were 73 packs, 31 pairs and three individual territorial animals in Germany. According to the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation , at least 275 to 301 adult wolves living in 105 packs were recorded in Germany in 2019 . According to projections by the German Hunting Association (DJV) , a total of around 1,300 wolves, both adults and young, lived in Germany in the early summer of 2019.

    In north-western Central Europe an exceptionally dynamic growth of this wolf population can be observed, which is genetically different from others. The genetic consequences of this process are not yet fully understood.

    Alpine Italian-French population

    The wolf was completely eradicated in the Alpine region and largely extinct in Italy. A remnant population of around 100 wolves survived in Abruzzo . After Italy placed the species under protection in the mid-1970s, the population recovered and spread again throughout the Apennines . In 2018, 1,100 to 2,400 (probably around 1,600) wolves lived on the Italian peninsula again. The WWF estimates that 20 percent of the population in Italy is shot illegally every year.

    In 1985 a wolf from the Apennines was first detected in the Italian Alps, and in 1987 one in the French Alps. The first pack formation took place here in 1992. The spread has continued since then. The first wolves reached the Swiss Alps in 1995. The surveys in winter 2010/2011 showed that a total of 37 wolf packs lived in the southwestern Alpine region, 16 of them in France, 14 in Italy and seven cross-border. The minimum population in the pack territories was 118–153 animals, a total of 250 to 300 wolves in the Alps. Since then further pack formations have taken place in Switzerland (2012) and in the eastern Italian Alps (2013). In France, the wolf has now regained a foothold in the Vosges, the Massif Central and the Pyrenees.

    Scandinavian population

    The very small population in Scandinavia is particularly endangered because of its low genetic diversity. The population of wild wolves in Scandinavia goes back to only three founding animals , which come from the Finnish-Russian population; two of them immigrated in 1983, a third was added in 1991. In the recent past, however, several wolves from the Finnish-Russian population immigrated, so that the genetic problem was defused. In the winter of 2012/2013 there were 30 packs and 20 couples loyal to the territory in Sweden, three packs and four couples in Norway. Five other packs and two pairs had cross-border territories. The population was estimated at 380 (± 30) wolves and in 2018 at 430.

    Karelian-Baltic population

    In 2018, between 1713 and 2240 wolves were accepted for Estonia , Latvia and Lithuania , 1000 to 1500 for Belarus and 1600 for the neighboring Russian administrative districts. The estimates for Finland are 204 to 234 wolves.

    Carpathian population

    The Carpathian population was estimated at 3460 to 3840 wolves in 2018, most of which lived in Romania and Ukraine ; there were about 380 wolves in the Polish Carpathians. For Slovakia , 300 to 400 wolves were assumed.

    Dinarid Balkan population

    The population size in the area of ​​the Dinarides and the Balkans was given for 2018 with 3750 to 4000 wolves. Significant populations have been recorded in Croatia and Slovenia , while in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina population declines were likely due to human persecution.

    Iberian population

    The total number of the Iberian population was given in 2018 with 2160 to 2880 animals; over 80 percent of them lived in Spain.

    The largest Spanish deposits are in the autonomous region of Castile and León (provinces of León , Zamora , Palencia , Burgos , Valladolid , Avila , Soria ) as well as in Galicia , Asturias , Cantabria , La Rioja , in the province of Álava ( País Vasco ), im North of the Autonomous Community of Madrid and north of the province of Guadalajara ; the situation in the province of Salamanca is unclear. The Sierra Morena showed an isolated and declining population of wolves . While 63 to 77 animals were assumed in 2005, only one herd could be identified in 2012, and there has been no evidence since 2014. There were some small populations in the province of Cáceres ( Sierra de Gata and Sierra de San Pedro ) that have since become extinct or have been exterminated.

    In Portugal, deposits are found almost exclusively north of the Douro : in Serras de Alvao , Arga , Peneda , Larouco , Geres , Soajo , Marao , Montesinho and Mogadouro . South of the river, wolves live in the following mountains: Serra de Leomil , Montemuro , Gralheira , Arada and possibly Serra de Malcata .

    From the French Maritime Alps , wolves have advanced to Spain in the Cadí-Moixeró Natural Park (Catalan Pyrenees ); this new Catalan deposit is relatively small.

    The wolf in Germany

    The last wolves originally living in what is now Germany were exterminated by 1850 at the latest. The wolves found in Germany from the middle of the 19th century to the end of the 20th century were probably all immigrants. In 2000 a successful reproduction (rearing of puppies) of the wolf in Germany was proven for the first time in the Saxon part of Lausitz . Since then, the number of wolves has increased continuously; the area of ​​distribution has constantly increased and extended to large parts of the Federal Republic. In the recording period (monitoring year) 2018/19, there were a total of 130 packs or pairs in eleven federal states; 393 puppies were born. Individual animals migrating through were observed in all federal states with the exception of the three city-states and the Saarland . The study "Habitat Modeling and Estimation of the Potential Number of Wolf Territories in Germany", which was commissioned by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and published in May 2020, estimates that there is a potential for 700 to 1400 wolf territories in Germany, including possible territories of individual animals and pairs gives.

    As the number of wolves increased, attacks by wolves on grazing animals, especially sheep and goats, increased. Almost all federal states therefore provide compensation payments to grazing cattle farmers and promote herd protection measures such as electric fences. Wolves, which lack their natural shyness of humans, are tried to keep away by scare them ; Exceptions can also be granted to “remove” a wolf from the herd or to kill it. From 1990 to the end of January 2018, 233 wolves were found dead in Germany; 162 of them were road traffic victims, 32 were killed illegally. In Germany, the wolf is a species that is strictly protected by the Federal Nature Conservation Act; The deliberate killing of a wolf is considered a criminal offense and, like the "accidental" shooting of a wolf, can be punished with imprisonment.

    The wolf in Austria

    After the Ice Age, wolves were widespread in most of today's national territory. In 1846, Archduke Franz Karl of Austria killed the last wolf living in the Vienna Woods . The main area of ​​distribution of the wolves was Styria , where they occurred until 1882; this year the last wolf native to Austria was killed. Wolves that appeared in Austria in the following decades are considered immigrants, for example a male who was shot in March 1914 in the Koralpe and who is said to have killed hundreds of grazing animals and ungulates living in the wild as a “ fright ”; However, there were several indications that large carnivores had escaped from captivity in the affected region. Up to the turn of the millennium no population could establish itself permanently, a couple that successfully reproduced in East Tyrol in 1954 remained an isolated case.

    Since 1970 the number of sightings in the border area between Austria and the Czech Republic has increased . In the Upper Austrian district of Rohrbach only one wolf was sighted until 1989; between 1990 and 2004 there were ten animals in the same region. Reports of kills in the Rohrbach district, near Eibeswald in Styria and near Eisenkappl in Carinthia have been confirmed from this time .

    The number of wolf records in Austria has increased especially since 2009. For 2010, the WWF estimated that there were three to five animals in Austria's eastern federal states. Since 2009, at least three wolves have also been detected in Tyrol. In 2013, the European Commission specified two to eight animals for Austria. It is noteworthy that these wolves come from three different populations: from the Western Alps, the Balkans and the Carpathian Mountains. In 2016, traces of a single wolf were also found in the Allentsteig military training area in the Waldviertel . In August 2016, a photo trap registered four wolves, including two young animals, i.e. a family; this was the first time that offspring were sighted in over a hundred years. At the beginning of August 2017, eleven wolves were reported at the Allentsteig military training area and 24 reported cracks by wolves in the current year.

    Legal protection

    In Europe, the wolf is protected by the following regulations:

    • The Washington Convention ( CITES , the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of the Wild Fauna and Flora ) from 3 March 1973 to include 152 countries. It sets guidelines for the trade in protected animals and their products and limits the import and export of animals or their parts (skins, skulls, bones ...). The wolf is listed here in Appendix II (endangered species), some threatened subpopulations in Appendix I.
    • In the Bern Convention , 45 states agreed on the conservation and protection of wild plants and animals and their habitats. The wolf is listed in Appendix II of the Convention.
    • The Habitats Directive ( Fauna-Flora-Habitat Directive. 92/43 / EEC) was put into force by the European Union in 1992 and is intended to regulate the designation and conservation of habitats and wild animals throughout the EU. The wolf is listed in the majority of the EU member states in Appendix IV, its habitat in Appendix II. The Habitats Directive has to be implemented in national law by all EU member states. There is strict protection for species listed in Appendix IV. Exceptions in accordance with Article 16 of the Habitat Directive are possible. However, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Greece list the wolf in Appendix V as a protected species. Spain only lists the wolf in the northern part of the country in Appendix V. In Finland there are wolf-free zones with reindeer herding the wolf is also listed in Appendix V. In Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Greece there is no simultaneous mention in Appendix II. Switzerland and Norway as non-EU countries are also signatory states of the Bern Convention with a corresponding obligation to protect the wolf. Pursuant to Article 9 (1) of the Bern Convention, either party may allow exceptions provided that there is no other satisfactory solution and that the exception does not harm the population in question.
    • In Germany, the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) implements the Habitats Directive into federal German law and places the wolf under strict protection in accordance with Section 7 (2) No. 14 letters a and b BNatSchG. Outside of Saxony it is not subject to hunting law, in Saxony it is protected all year round.
    • In Austria, the animal welfare law regulates the keeping of wolves in section 7.10.6 of the 2nd animal husbandry ordinance. According to Section 16, the Animal Disease Act regulates the killing and capturing of wolves in which the disease of anger ( rabies ) has broken out. According to the Vienna Nature Conservation Act, the wolf is a strictly protected species . In various state hunting laws , it is considered not huntable or is spared all year round.

    Stock in North America

    In 2003, the worldwide wolf population was estimated at 300,000 specimens. A decline in the wolf population has been halted since the 1970s. Through legal protection measures, changes in land use and rural exodus, a resettlement and introduction into former territories could be promoted. The competition with humans for livestock and wild animals, concerns about the danger that wolves pose to humans, as well as the separation of habitats represent a continuing threat to the wolf. Despite these threats, the IUCN classifies the wolf as "due to its relatively large range and stable population" not endangered ”on the red list. The species is listed in the second appendix to the Washington Convention on Endangered Species , indicating that it is not critically endangered. However, the wolf populations that live in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan are listed in the first appendix. This indicates that without trade restrictions, they may become extinct.

    In Canada, 50,000 to 60,000 wolves live in 80% of their historical range. Under Canadian law, indigenous peoples are allowed to hunt wolves without restrictions. However, other residents must acquire licenses for the hunting season. Up to 4000 wolves are caught in Canada each year. The wolf is a protected species in national parks under the Canada National Parks Act .

    Between 7,000 and 11,000 wolves were found in Alaska, spread over 85% of the country's area, which covers an area of ​​1,517,733 square kilometers. Wolves can be hunted and caught with a license. Around 1,200 wolves are caught every year. In the contiguous US states, the decline in wolves is being driven by expansion of agriculture, the depletion of major prey such as bison, and eradication campaigns. Wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 , but the only surviving populations until then consisted of several hundred wolves living in Minnesota and on Michigan's Isle Royale . Under federal protection, Minnesota's wolf population grew to 3,000 individuals by the mid-2000s. In addition, several hundred wolves repopulated Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

    In the late 1970s, wolves from southwest Canada began cruising northwest Montana to establish a birth cave area in Glacier National Park in 1986. In 1995, the federal government reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park , where they were absent until the 1930s. Also in Central Idaho, as part of the Rocky Mountains Recovery Plan. Since then, wolves have occupied a large area of ​​the northern Rocky Mountains , with at least 1,704 wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming in 2015. These have also built populations in Washington and Oregon. In 2018, the wolf population in Washington was estimated to be a minimum of 126 specimens. A wolf pack immigrated from Oregon to California in April 2019 and gave birth to three pups.

    In Mexico, the American and Mexican governments worked together to capture all wild Mexican wolves and thereby prevent them from becoming extinct. Between 1977 and 1980 five wild Mexican wolves (four males and one pregnant female) were captured alive to be used in an incipient captive breeding program. Beginning in 1997, wolves born into this breeding project were handed over to guard stations in Arizona and New Mexico to begin repopulating their historical populations. According to a 2018 inventory, at that time there were 230 wolves in Mexico, 64 in Arizona, 67 in New Mexico and 240 specimens in breeding in both countries.

    Man and wolf

    The Tamaskan corresponds to the wolf only in appearance, not in behavior


    The wolf is the sole ancestor of the domestic dog . How wolves were domesticated is unknown. The relationship to the wolf is quite evident in some dog breeds ; Samoyed , Siberian Husky , Alaskan Malamute , Canaan dog or the Shiba and Akita have an original type with a pointed muzzle , pointed ears and a square body ; Other breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog also show a certain external resemblance to the wolf. However, these breeds are no more closely related to the wolf than others. The sound behavior of wolf and sled dogs is similar to that of wolves; they hardly bark and when they do, they do not bark continuously, instead they howl and howl in many variations. The Wolf Science Center explores similarities and differences in abilities and behavior between wolves and dogs .

    Relationship between man and wolf


    Many peoples who lived from the hunt, for example in Northern Europe and North America, saw in the wolf an equal or superior competitor, whose perseverance and skill were admired and coveted. The wolf was also viewed and revered as a protector or a supernatural being. Warriors identified with the wolf ( therianthropy ); First names like Wolf , Adolf , Wolfgang or Wolfhard are reminiscent of his appreciation. Various parts of the wolf were also considered medicinal in Germany. Wolfskin shoes, for example, should make boys brave men. While the wolf was revered by pre-Christian European peoples, evidently the Celts of the Iron Age and the Teutons of the Roman era, the relationship between humans and wolves in Europe became increasingly fearful in the course of advanced Christianization, especially from the Middle Ages and in the early modern period Demonized.

    Conflicts between humans and wolves

    Since the wolf can both kill livestock and attack humans, it is viewed by many as a threat. In addition, it feeds primarily on game and was therefore a significant interspecific competitor of humans in historical times . This applied to natural products such as meat, hides and bones. The proliferation of human settlement and agricultural areas as well as open livestock husbandry, especially the forest pasture of cattle, sheep, pigs and horses that was widespread up to the 19th century , led to numerous domestic losses by wolves. Even if the reported losses were in some cases exaggerated or caused by poaching dogs, the economic damage caused by this type of livestock farming for the farmers was often significant. Descriptions such as the large, complete Universal Lexicon from 1758 were typical. There it is claimed that the wolf is “very voracious, cruel, malicious, and the most dangerous enemy of wild and tame animals, especially the sheep”, and that the most harmful creature of God ”, which“ attacks, tears and eats people. ”Reports and stories about“ wolf plagues ”and attacks on people (sometimes resulting in death) can be found in numerous written sources up to modern times. As early as 1197, a "wolf plague" was reported on the Moselle , which allegedly claimed several human victims.

    The aim of the persecution of the wolf in Western and Central Europe, especially through large driven hunts , was complete extermination. The known retreat areas were spanned with so-called wolf stuff (ropes on which rags were attached). The wolves did not slip under these ropes with rags , but stayed in the cordoned off area. The drivers drove the wolves towards a rifle chain, where they were then shot. The hunting and forestry personnel, as well as the population obliged to provide hunting services, were called up for the driven hunts. These wolf hunts were hated by the population because they were carried out in winter when fresh snow fell. Because only with fresh snow one could follow the tracks of the wolves and determine their retreat areas. The hunts lasted many hours, even days. Most of the population obliged to provide hunting services were poor day laborers and farmers. These drivers often had insufficient winter clothing, which repeatedly led to illnesses. In the Oranienburg region, between 10 and 25 hunts per year were scheduled at the beginning of the 18th century. Municipalities and cities tried again and again to free themselves from the position of drivers. The city of Neu-Ruppin paid several hundred Reichstaler in 1672 to get rid of the obligation.

    In addition to driven hunts, there were other hunting methods. In order to increase the incentive to hunt wolves, there were high catch premiums. According to a regulation in Prussia, an adult wolf was paid twelve thalers, an adult wolf ten thalers, a young wolf eight thalers and an excavated puppy four thalers. The normal population was forbidden to carry firearms. There were u. a. bait poisoned with strychnine was used. Wolf gardens and wolf pits were also created. Another method was wolf fishing forged from iron . The barbed ends were baited and hung from a tree so high that the wolf had to jump afterwards to be able to snap shut. The wolf caught its mouth and died in a long agony.

    As early as the 18th century, only single wolves were found west of the Oder in the German Empire. Only in East Prussia could the wolf population survive. In the winter of 1747/48, the hunting range in East Prussia was still 241 wolves, while in the three provinces bordering to the west only 24 wolves were hunted. As recently as 1764, the Brandenburg provincial government demanded an increase in the shot money because ten wolves were found that were shot soon afterwards (without an increase in the shot money). The wolf was gradually wiped out in more and more areas.

    The wolf was exterminated in Great Britain (last shot in 1743), Denmark (1772), Luxembourg (1893) and Germany (1904 at the latest), among others. In historical times it was never possible in southern and eastern Europe to decimate the stocks to the point of near extinction.

    Protective measures against the capture of farm animals

    Protective measures are important for all grazing animals, but especially for flocks of sheep. For protection, wolf-proof night pens , electric fences and herd guard dogs are primarily used today, as well as herd guard donkeys . Herd guardian dogs are to be distinguished from herding dogs , which help the shepherd to keep the herd together and to direct the movement of the herd. On the part of agriculture, there are demands such as “100 percent assumption of the costs for wolf-proof fences to protect grazing animals; the establishment of wolf-free zones; the "removal" of all wolves who help themselves with the grazing animals; the inclusion of the wolf in the hunting law as well as the 100 percent replacement of all grazing animals killed, injured or damaged by early abortion by Isegrim. "

    Attacks on people

    Wolf attacks 1950 to 2000
    rabies without rabies total
    Europe without USSR / Russia Attacks 38 12 50
    Fatalities 5 4th 9
    worldwide Attacks 799 342 1141
    Fatalities 50 281 331
    India Attacks 77 311 388
    Fatalities 5 273 278
    Iran Attacks 474 0 474
    Fatalities 22nd 0 22nd

    After an extensive study by the collective of authors Linnell et al. Between 1950 and 2000 there were 50 attacks on people in Europe (excluding the USSR / Russia) with nine fatalities; 38 of these attacks, including five fatalities, were carried out by rabid wolves. Worldwide there were 1141 attacks with 331 fatalities during the same period. Seven out of ten attacks, but only one in seven fatalities, were caused by rabid wolves. India played a special role: 91 percent of the rabies-free attacks took place there, which resulted in 97 percent of the fatalities; outside of India there were eight fatalities of non-rabid wolves in the 51 years under review. The situation in Iran was also striking, where 59 percent of the attacks caused by rabies worldwide occurred.

    The fatal attacks by rabies-free wolves during this period affected children under the age of ten in four out of five cases. The remaining fifth relates to the age group of 10 to 18 year olds and a woman over 18 years of age. In contrast, adult males were the largest group of victims in attacks by rabid wolves.

    In addition to predatory attacks and rabies, there are other possible causes of wolf attacks. This includes getting used to people, for example with cattle wolves or because wolves living in the wild have been fed. Another issue could be habitat changes that prevent wolves from accessing wild prey by changing land use; instead, livestock or waste are eaten, which can also lead to habituation to humans. Finally, wolves can attack dogs; people may also be attacked when trying to defend a dog.

    A wolf preyed on a child. Illustration in a 1914 edition of Le Petit Journal .

    Historical records report more frequent and more serious attacks. Linnell et al. registered the following approximate number of cases for the 18th century to the first half of the 20th century: 18th century: 733 attacks by rabid wolves, 839 attacks by non-rabid wolves; 19th century: 896 and 1613 attacks respectively; first half of the 20th century: 183 and 531 attacks respectively. In addition, these authors recorded the following deaths from wolf attacks: 18th century: more than 910; 19th century: 1437; first half of the 20th century: more than 202 (including 115 in India). The European wolf attacks partly affected wolves that had escaped from captivity. Many of the historical reports are controversial or massively doubted. It is still unclear whether the so-called beast of Gévaudan was actually one or more wolves, hybrids between wolves and large herding dogs, or a sub-adult lion that had escaped from captivity .

    Economic use

    Furs made from wolf fur are versatile. Their importance in Europe has decreased with the decline in wolf populations. Wolfskins were used for clothing purposes and in the living and sleeping quarters; the whiter they were, the more valuable they were. The wolf skin was also tanned into leather and made into gloves , timpani and eardrums .

    The wolf in culture

    The wolf plays a central role as a motif in mythologies, legends and fairy tales as well as in the literature and art of numerous peoples. This reflects the ambivalent attitude of humans towards the wolf. On the one hand he adores him as a strong and superior animal, on the other hand he projects various fears onto the predator.

    Mythological meaning

    Totem culture

    In many cultures the wolf appears as a totem , for example among the Tlingit Indian tribe , the Iroquois , the Turkmens and the Mongols . The Uzbeks and the Huns derived their origin from the wolf, and the she-wolf was also considered to be the great mother of the ancient Turks . The North American Indian tribe of the Shoshone believed that coyotes and wolves had created the world and that the dead of their tribe would come to their kingdom. The souls of the dead were first washed by coyotes in a river and only then could they enter the eternal hunting grounds.


    In the Bible the wolf is represented several times as a herd-rending, dangerous animal, for example in ( Gen 49,27  LUT ); ( Jer 5,6  LUT ); ( Joh 10,12  LUT ). If “the wolf lies with the Lamb”, then this means the connection of unequal and is therefore used by Jesus Sirach as a parable for the intercourse between sinners and the righteous ( Sir 13:17  A ). Isaiah, however, uses the utopian image as a metaphor for the dawn of the kingdom of God ( Isa 65,25  LUT ). In German usage there is the phrase borrowed from the Bible about the wolf in sheep's clothing .

    Greek mythology

    The Greek goddess Hecate , associated with dark witchcraft and sorcery, was often depicted in the visual arts in the company of three wolves. The Greek king Lykaon was transformed into a wolf by Zeus .

    The suckling she-wolf

    The Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus

    The legendary founders of the city of Rome , Romulus and Remus , are said to have been suckled and raised by a she-wolf. There are comparable traditions from the Indian region; the Slovak stretching Waligor and Wyrwidub and the founder of the old Persian Empire , Cyrus II. , to have been raised by wolves. The modern motif of the wolf children also has its origins here.

    Germanic mythology

    In Germanic or Nordic mythology , Odin , the god of victory, is accompanied by two ravens as well as the wolves Geri and Freki , who pursue the fight as argumentative and brave animals and pounce on the corpses of the fallen. The sun and moon are hunted by the wolf brothers Skoll and Hati . They both have another brother named Managarm who feeds on the flesh of the dead. The Fenriswolf plays a decisive role in the end of the world in Ragnarök . At the beginning of Götterdämmerung he devours the moon first, and later Odin. The wolf Ysengrin of the myth has many traits of the devious fox . Also of Germanic origin is the figure of the werewolf , who, regardless of his life in bourgeois society, temporarily assumes the shape of a wolf. The rye wolf is a grain demon and scare child of the German saga , which also has counterparts in France , Poland , Latvia and Estonia .

    Mythologies of other cultures

    The Chinese saw the wolf as a symbol of cruelty, voracity and greed. The North American natives know the Waheela, a kind of ghost in the shape of a giant wolf.

    The wolf in literature

    The wolf at Little Red Riding Hood's side

    In the fables of ancient authors such as Aesop and Phaedrus , whose subjects were later taken up in particular by Jean de Lafontaine and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing , negative human traits such as greed , belligerence , malice and cunning are projected onto the wolf. In The Lamb and the Wolf, for example, the wolf seeks with all his might an excuse to tear up the lamb drinking with him by the river. In Leo, Wolf and Fox , an intrigue instigated by the wolf falls back on him. In The Wolf and the Crane he cheats a helpful bird out of his wages. In The Wolf and the Dog he stands as a representative of the endangered but free life in contrast to the domestic dog who lives under the yoke. Also known is The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf , a fable about a shepherd boy who so often called for help because of alleged wolves until no one helped him when one day a wolf really tore his flock.

    Man frees a girl devoured by a wolf

    In the Latin Middle Ages , the wolf is known as Ysengrimus, Germanized Isegrim , mythical creature of the animal pose Reineke Fuchs , in which the Brothers Grimm later became interested. In several of her animal fairy tales, the wolf costs dearly for greed: the wolf and the human being , the wolf and the fox , the fox and the wife of the godfather . He becomes a victim of the cunning fox or human superiority, as is the case in The Wondrous Minstrel and Thumbstick . In The Two Brothers he is like a dog's companion to humans, in The Old Sultan the wolf is even smarter. He is generally known in fairy tales as a mostly malicious character. In Little Red Riding Hood, for example, he sneaks the trust of a little girl, then eats her grandmother and, in the end, Little Red Riding Hood too. In The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats, he gains access to the house of a goat family with a voice distorted by chalk and devours all but one of their children. But the victims are saved and the wolf is killed. Finally, the fairy tale of the wolf and the three pigs comes from the Anglo-Saxon area .

    In modern world literature, the wolf motif can be found in particular in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and in Jack London ( Call of the Wild , White Fang ). The description of a wolf hunt in Russia can be found in War and Peace . The wolf also plays an essential role in stories about vampires who, like Dracula , can turn into wolves in order to get hold of their victims. In his story, Der Wolf, Hermann Hesse also compares the struggle for survival of a pack of wolves in the harsh winter with humans. Finally, his novel Steppenwolf uses the wolf motif as a metaphor for the animalistic, instinctual side of the lonely and people-shy protagonist Harry Haller. Käthe Rechei's well-known fantasy novel The White Wolf emphasizes mythological features. In Alison Croggon's fantasy novel The Riddle , the free, wild animals help the shaman. Another modern novel is Isegrim by Antje Babendererde (2013).

    Wanders German Proverbs Lexicon (Volume 5) offersaround 700 proverbson the subject of wolf (including word combinations ).

    Comic and cartoon

    Wolves also appear in many comics and cartoons. A bad, clumsy wolf and a good rabbit play in the Soviet cartoon series Rabbit and Wolf . In Walt Disney's cartoon The Three Little Pigs , a lanky, black-skinned wolf in brightly colored dungarees and a slouch hat wants to blow over the houses of the three pigs. He succeeds in doing this with those made of straw and wood, but not so with those made of stone. Disguised as in Little Red Riding Hood , he approaches the pigs in an old woman's elevator. The short also included the famous song Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, written by Frank Churchill . In the Disney comic Lil 'Bad Wolf , a bad wolf named Zeke (German: Ede ) tries unsuccessfully to shape his boy in his own image: Instead, the little one makes close friends with the little pigs. Another villainous wolf appears in the Disney movie The big bad wolf . He also has a guest appearance on the Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey's Polo Team from 1936, in which Disney characters played polo against cartoon versions of famous actors of the time. In this context, mention should also be made of the wolf figures Lupo, Lupinchen and Eusebia from Rolf Kaucasus series Fix and Foxi from 1953.

    Also in the 1974 animated series Wickie and the Strong Men, based on Runer Jonsson's books, there are often wolves, starved animals of grotesquely shaggy leanness who hunt down the fearful Viking boy Wickie . In Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 anime Princess Mononoke , the protagonist lives with wolves, who play a positive or negative role depending on the characters' perspective. Furthermore, wolves make up a large part of the protagonists in the anime series Wolf's Rain by the animation studio Bones from 2003. There, the wolves are supposed to be the trailblazers in paradise, but are considered extinct. They can pretend a human form and live undetected among people. The motif of the wolf child appears in Rudyard Kipling's short story The Jungle Book , which was first filmed in 1942 as the feature film " The Jungle Book " and then taken up in 1964 by Walt Disney for his cartoon " The Jungle Book ". Further films and animated films followed on this basis.


    • Claudio Sillero-Zubiri: Family Canidae (Dogs). In: Don E. Wilson , Russell A. Mittermeier (eds.): Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 1: Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona 2009, ISBN 978-84-96553-49-1 , pp. 352-446
    • Dmitrij Ivanovich Bibikow: The wolf. Canis lupus (= The New Brehm Library. Vol. 587). 3rd edition, unchanged reprint of the 2nd edition 1990. Westarp Wissenschaften, Hohenwarsleben 2003, ISBN 3-89432-380-9 .
    • L. David Mech , Luigi Boitani (Eds.): Wolves. Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL et al. 2003, ISBN 0-226-51696-2 .
    • Henryk Okarma: The wolf. Ecology, behavior, protection. Parey, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-8263-8431-8 .
    • Ilka Reinhardt , Gesa Kluth : Living with wolves. Guidelines for dealing with a conflict-prone species in Germany (= BfN- Skripten . 201, ZDB -ID 1476341-2 ). Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), Bonn 2007 ( PDF; 3.3 MB ).
    • Kurt Kotrschal : Wolf - Dog - Human. The story of a millennia-old relationship , Brandstätter Verlag, 2012, ISBN 978-3-85033-675-8 (Science Book of the Year 2013 in the Medicine / Biology category)
    • Erik Zimen : The wolf. Behavior, Ecology and Myth. The legacy of the famous wolf researcher. New edition. Kosmos, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-440-09742-0 .
    • Shaun Ellis, Monty Sloan (Photos): The Wolf - Wild and Fascinating. Parragon Books Ltd., 2012, ISBN 978-1-4454-8426-6 .
    • Committee for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety: Report by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety on the way of life, status and management of the wolf (Canis lupus) in Germany . for the technical discussion on November 4, 2015. Ed .: German Bundestag. Reject printed matter 18 (16) 313. Berlin October 28, 2015 ( digitized version (PDF) ).
    • Will N. Graves, Valerius Geist (Ed.): Wolves in Russia - Anxiety Through the Ages. Detselig Enterprise Ltd. Calgary 2007, ISBN 978-1-55059-332-7 .
    • Heiko Anders: The life of our wolves. Observations from local wolf territories. Ed .: NABU e. V. , Haupt Verlag, Bern 2019, ISBN 978-3-258-08108-3 .

    How to deal with wolves

    • Contact office Wolfsregion Lausitz, Internationaler Tierschutz-Fonds (Ed.): Wolves on our doorstep. In the border area between Germany and Poland. 2014, (PDF; 1.3 MB).
    • Contact office Wolfsregion Lausitz, Internationaler Tierschutz-Fonds (Ed.): When you meet a wolf. 2014, (PDF; 1 MB).
    • Stefan Willeke: The wolves are coming. In: The time . April 1, 2015, pp. 11-13.
    • Eckhard Fuhr: Return of the Wolves. How a homecomer changes our lives. Riemann Verlag, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-570-50171-9 .
    • Dirk Wüstenberg: Measures against wolves according to the Brandenburg Wolf Ordinance. In: State and municipal administration - administrative law journal for the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia (LKV) 2018, pp. 106–112.

    Web links

    Commons : Wolf ( Canis lupus )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
    Wiktionary: Wolf  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
    Wikiquote: Wolf  Quotes
     Wikinews: Wolf  - on the news

    Individual evidence

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