A few myths vs a few facts

I realize the truth hurts sometimes but let it hurt – here are a few facts and myths:

MYTH: Wolves are a deadly menace to humans.

FACT: In North America, there have been six documented unprovoked attacks causing injury, and 21 believed to be related to wolves which had been fed by humans, in over a century. One attack attributed to wolves was fatal – though there is still some debate regarding the actual cause of death, some believe the wolves scavenged – that attack is one of the 21 which involved human-fed wolves. Domestic dogs kill more people per year than wolves.

MYTH: Wolves kill lots of cattle, lead to lower birth rates, and are causing cattle ranchers to go out of business. They cost the livestock industry too much.

FACT: Wolves are responsible for less than two tenths of a percent (.2%) of cattle depredations. About 94% of losses are due to non-predator related causes, such as respiratory disease, digestive problems, weather, calving problems, etc. These few losses have minimal effect on the livestock industry. However, to an individual rancher losing even a few animals seem like a lot. This leaves an angry impression which is often exaggerated and this is the voice that gets heard. If a ranch is within the territory of a wolf pack and there have been no problems of depredation, ranchers are advised to leave the wolves alone as they may be protecting livestock from wolves that are more prone to go after livestock. Many ranchers, in fact, have implemented and currently practice non-lethal techniques and predator friendly ranching.

MYTH: Wolves kill for sport and for fun and they kill more food than they can consume.

FACT: Wolves hunt to sustain themselves. Wolves, like all wild carnivores, do not kill for sport. They kill to sustain themselves. Though it is uncommon, “surplus killing” (killing more prey animals than can be immediately consumed) has been observed in many predator species. If given the opportunity to secure future meals, many animals will sometimes do so, leaving food behind. It is a survival mechanism. It is this survival tactic that has led to the misplaced notion of sport killing. It has nothing to do with sport; only people kill for sport. In addition, wolves may not return to a carcass once it is disturbed by humans, leading to the thought that excessive killing is occurring when it would not have had it been left alone. This could also lead to wolves killing another animal to replace the food source they have just lost. A wolf pack may not necessarily be able to consume the entire amount of prey that they kill. Leftovers provide for scavengers and contribute to biodiversity.

MYTH: Wolves carry tapeworms and rabies and that is a danger as it can be spread to people.

FACT: Tapeworms come from all sorts of wild and domestic animals. The Echinoccus granulosus tapeworm is found almost worldwide in canids, including wolves, dogs, coyotes, and foxes. The eggs of this tapeworm are spread in canid feces. Wild and domestic ungulates (deer, elk, moose, sheep, goats, swine, etc.) are the normal intermediate hosts, carrying a cyst form in their organs. When canids (including dogs) feed on these infected organs, they become tapeworm hosts. Humans are very rarely infected. Humans would have to ingest tapeworm eggs in canid feces or drink water contaminated with canid feces. It is extremely unlikely to be spread by handling ungulate capes or meat, unless those parts are contaminated with canid feces and handlers do not use good basic hygiene. Likewise, if a pet dog rolled in feces infected with tapeworm eggs, good hygiene is required after handling the dog. Humans cannot be infected by ingesting cysts found in ungulates. These parasitic tapeworms are not wind- born nor transmitted in any way other than direct ingestion of eggs in feces. As for rabies – Just like domestic dogs there have been instances where wolves have had rabies but, unlike domestic dogs, the number of rabies infected has been low. Paranoia still exists around the idea of rabid wolves. Contrary to popular belief, very few wolves contract rabies. Most incidents of rabies occur in raccoons, skunks, foxes or bats. In Alberta, in 1952, one rabid wolf was discovered. As a result of paranoia, in the next four years, 4,200 wolves were poisoned. In addition to this, over 50,000 foxes, 35,000 coyotes, and 1,850 bears were also killed by this non-target poisoning.

MYTH: Wolves are vermin and worthless animals. They need to be removed from the ecosystem.

FACT: Predators, like wolves, are essential to restoring balance and ensure proper ecosystem processes and function. As an apex predator and a keystone species, wolves have shaped prey populations for thousands of years. Wolf predation is strategic; it differs from how humans hunt. Wolves primarily take the young and old, rather than the largest and healthiest animals. Wolf predation also helps to balance prey numbers with available habitat, ensuring that plant communities get periodic rest from heavy browsing or grazing influences of herbivores. Wolves can also affect habitat use—for instance, in Yellowstone there is evidence that wolf presence has shifted elk use from valley bottom stream side areas to uplands, which has benefited vegetation important to many wildlife species. Finally, the presence of wolves can also affect the population and distribution of other smaller predators like coyotes, foxes and skunks. Changes in the population and distribution of these species can have cascading effects on other species from ground-nesting birds to small mammals.

MYTH: Wolves are wiping out elk and other prized game species

FACT: Elk herds naturally increase and decrease in size over time. They do so in response to changes in habitat, nutrition, disease, hunting pressure, predation, weather and a number of other factors. Sometimes predators may cause local impacts on local prey populations, but predator numbers are primarily driven by the availability of their prey, which in turn, is controlled by the availability of food and the uncertainty of the weather. These intertwined factors demonstrate nature’s inherent balance, and ensure that elk, deer and other ungulates are not ‘wiped out’ by the animals that eat them. As for the declining caribou numbers in Alberta, human interest and industrial development take precedence in all land-use decisions and the wolf has rarely been treated as an important member of the province’s rich wildlife heritage. Human activities, industrial development and natural resource exploitation have resulted in loss of habitat and fragmented caribou habitat. This has allowed wolves to travel in places they previously were unable to before and hunt caribou, but the main threat to caribou population is not the wolf, but man made interference.

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