Wolves have often been portrayed as the villains of fairy tales and folk lore, but are they really all bad and what should you do if you encounter one whilst walking in the forests of Norway or Sweden.
Photo: Mikko Nikkinen/imagebank.sweden.se
Where do wolves live?
The main wolf populations are found in Dalarna and Värmland in Sweden and in the bordering areas in south-east Norway.
There are thought to be around 350-410 wolves in Norway and Sweden (based on surveys in Winter 2012/2013) with most of these being found in Sweden. Wolves are, in Sweden and Norway, considered an endangered species (though not in other parts of the world). In the past wolves have been entirely eradicated from Sweden and Norway; the current population are thought to be descended from a small Finnish-Russian population.
With such small numbers it is rare that you will come face to face with a wolf however you may see signs (e.g. tracks) or hear them at night; the sound of their howls can carry for over 10km.
Photo: Mikko Nikkinen/imagebank.sweden.se
What to do if you encounter a wolf
If you do come across a wolf, you will probably find that the wolf backs away from you as soon as you make any noise or speak. If the wolf starts to come towards you or you feel nervous then there are some simple things you can do:
- Back away slowly and loudly; shout, sing or talk it is not recommended that you scream in a high pitch.
- Do not run away; this is more likely to make the wolf chase you.
Should the wolf start to follow you, stop and try and make yourself seem as big as possible (hold up your arms or backpack etc.). You should also take a step towards (rather than away from) the wolf.
- If the wolf does attack you kick and hit it as hard as you can (do not play dead)
- If you are out walking with your dog and you encounter a wolf you should still follow the above advice however you may find that the presence of your dog makes the wolf less shy. It may even approach you (up to a few meters) however it seems that normally the wolf is mostly interested in the dog and will pay little (if any) attention to the human. If the wolf attacks your dog you should never get in between the wolf and dog; you should take off your dog’s lead (if possible) and throw something at the wolf.
Should you come across a wolf with food, as long as you remain at a distance and do not try to take its food away, there is no evidence to suggest that the wolf will be aggressive towards you.
Life in a pack
Wolves live in packs these can range in size from 2 individuals to 30 or more, in Europe packs usually consist of 2- 7 individuals. These packs usually are made up of an “alpha” male and female pair and their offspring though can sometimes have non related wolves in. The offspring usually leave the pack when aged around 1-2 years though some will stay with their parents for longer. Normally only the “alpha” pair will breed with the rest of the pack helping in the upbringing of the pups (or whelps). The pups (normally 4 -5) are born in a den where they spend the first few weeks of their life. When the pups are born they are both blind and deaf; their eyes open at around 10 -13 days and their sense of hearing is developed by 21 days.
Wolves and humans
In Norse mythologies wolves are often portrayed as being evil. One of the most famous mythological stories is about Fenrir who was the wolf son of Loki and who it was foretold would kill Odin, however the other gods manage to bind him up before he has chance to kill Odin using a special Dwarf made chain (in some tales in is a ribbon) although this was at the cost of Týr’s right hand which Fenrir bit off in his rage at being unable to get free.
Wolves today tend to live in remote areas so that contact with humans is rare and there have been no reported killings of humans by wolves since 1820 and the last reported death was caused by a half tame wolf. You should not feed wolves as this could cause them to associate humans with food leading to them entering into human populated areas more frequently and increasing the chances of humans and wolves coming into contact with each other.
Wolves usually feed on moose, however when food supplies are low or a wolf is starving they may well attack sheep and have been known to attack cows and horses. This leads to much animosity towards wolves from farmers who have had their sheep taken by hungry wolves.
Whilst wolves are shy and it is unlikely that they will attack you should you encounter them you should remember that they are a wild predator and you should not attempt to approach them or touch them even though they may seem friendly.
Our Howling with Wolves experience is a great way to learn more about these wonderful creatures and to spend an evening round the camp fire listening to their howls.
The Nature Travels Team