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Posted on Tue, Jul 10, 2012 : 11:16 a.m.

Wolves: Myth vs. fact

By Rick Taylor

On July 3, I turned on the History Channel and watched an excerpt of “Mountain Men.” The show discusses the lives of three different men who live off the land in the Alaskan, Kentucky and Montana mountain ranges. One of the men in this show talked about his fear of the timber wolf and how he didn’t want to die from a possible wolf attack.

This stereotype of wolves is nothing new yet I find it profoundly frustrating every time I hear how someone’s “afraid to get eaten by a wolf.” Let’s be honest, most people are scared to death of wolves, and that has lead to their demise in many parts of North America over a century ago.

So, I’d like to set the record straight on the number of humans killed by wolves. Perhaps you too might get frustrated once you know the facts.

There are a total of two humans killed by wolves in the U.S. (including Alaska) in recorded history. That’s right, I said recorded history — period.

The last human killed was a 32 year old woman in Alaska in 2010. She was the first person killed by a wolf in Alaska — ever.

I find it repugnant that The History Channel, The Discovery Channel and other media sources ignore facts and allow this misinformation to by promoted to the unsuspecting public for the sake of ratings. I find it impossible to believe that these shows don’t have the resources to fact check this stuff first.

That doesn’t mean that wolves aren’t a pain to deal with. Ranchers in the western states absolutely hate wolves with a passion. I’ve seen bumper stickers say: “Want to save a hundred elk? Then kill one wolf!” I’m not condoning this sentiment but rather letting you know the difference of opinions that are out there.

The reintroduction of wolves throughout the country including Michigan’s Upper Penninsula has sparked debate among those on both sides of the political isle. But, that’s not the issue here today.

I believe that people should have the facts and that’s the whole point of this article.

There’s another animal out there that is known to be the cute and cuddly. I’m talking about the hippopotamus.

The sobering truth is that hippos kill more people in Africa every year than any other animal-including the lion, leopard and God knows what else. The funny thing is that wolves get a bad reputation yet the hippo is beloved; the hippo even has its own Christmas song.

So, why does a hunter like me want you to know this stuff? Because; the more you understand wildlife behavior the more you’ll understand nature as a whole.

By the way, mosquitos kill more people annually on this earth (5,000,000) than any other animal through the transmission of malaria.

Your story ideas and comments are warmly welcomed. Rick can be reached by email at or by cell at 734-223-5656.


Sarah Rigg

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

Rick, you had me literally chuckling out loud with this line from your comments: "I'm not advocating that we dress up in hamburger meat and try to pet a wolf in the wild."


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:42 a.m.

Does everyone here know the difference between wolves and coyotes? A lot of these comments seem to be referring to a pack of coyotes. These critters are just as interested in small game and can coordinate attacks to this end.

Lorrie Shaw

Wed, Jul 11, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

Rick - Great, great piece! There are so many fallacies about wolves, and television loves to perpetuate them. What sells? Fear. Larger than life stories. (This all-too-often happens with domesticated canines, as well, unfortunately!) L. David Mech has done decades of *real* immersed research on this species. Amazing stuff. Thanks for writing this, Rick!

Rick Taylor

Wed, Jul 11, 2012 : 2:11 p.m.

My point is simple and its being overlooked. We have 2 documented cases in recorded history-period. Ok, lets say there were 10 cases of wolves killing people in recorded history. The wolf is vilified unlike any other animal yet it has the least mortality rate of all carnivores. I kid you not in saying white tail deer attack and kill more people a year than wolf killings in recorded history. Thats my point, nothing more and nothing less. I'm not advocating that we dress up in hamburger meat and try to pet a wolf in the wild. I'm saying that they get a bum reputation that is undeserving for the sake of TV and movie ratings. I find that offensive and think the public should know the actual facts.


Wed, Jul 11, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

That is true but I dont tink they should reintroduce them. If they migrae in from other areas fin. I suppose you think they should reintroduce the Wolverine also. The more people an expansin into the wildlife areas the more problems you will have. There has been plenty of killings by wolves that were raised in captivity because they aren't afraid of humans anmore. And that willbe a big problem in the future.


Wed, Jul 11, 2012 : 1:58 p.m.

Candice Berner, 32, female March 8, 2010 (discovered) Berner, a teacher and avid jogger, was found dead along a road near Chignik Lake, Alaska, a village about 475 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. Snowmobilers found her mutilated body with wolf tracks in the adjacent snow. The Alaska State Medical Examiner ruled that her death was caused by "multiple injuries due to animal mauling.


Wed, Jul 11, 2012 : 2 p.m.

This was the one listed in article. There have been attacks from wolves that were raised in captivity and then released and by ones chained up.


Wed, Jul 11, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

According to the show on NGW just this morning there have been suspected wolf killings but not proven . One case they weren't sure if the man was dead before he was partially eaten or attacked while alive and then eaten.I think it was Dog Whisperer.

Rork Kuick

Tue, Jul 10, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

May I quibble that "reintroduction" tends to imply we imported those that are here now, and I believe that is not the case (it was attempted though, as detailed in that link). The tough part is going to be in the details of how we manage our wolves. If you follow wolf management politics out west (ID, WY, MO), then you know it can get pretty ugly. There's cause for more hope here, cause the ranchers don't own the politicians. I'm a bit worried about the hunters here just wanting as many deer as possible, and seeing no benefits from wolves (more like willfully forgetting or ignoring the benefits). It's complicated. There really will be winners and losers no matter how we do it. It's hard to predict what our DNR will propose.


Tue, Jul 10, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

Can't resist telling this tale: Memorial Day weekend of 1965, a friend and I were camping & fishing in remote Algonquin Provincial Park (Northern Ontario). In the first evening, we were amazed to hear wolves howling nearby. We - being avid outdoorsmen - howled back! The NEXT night as we sat by our camp fire eating the steaks we'd just cooked, we suddenly could see we were literally encircled by "wolf eyes" reflecting in the light of the fire. The wolf pack had heard us the previous night and had smelled the steaks we had grilled. They sat "politely" awaiting a hand out. They never made any attempt to actually come in for a bite. There must have been ten or so wolves right there within a few feet - they could easily have taken us down... but didn't.


Tue, Jul 10, 2012 : 4:14 p.m.

I could add: there are some unreported wolf attacks. I personally have heard tales told by Michigan U.P. residents of being chased by wolves. Only - you find out that what those people were doing was chasing the wolf pack across the frozen lake on their snowmobiles. Hah! It was funny to hear this story told as if it were the wolves fault because all that happened was the wolves realized they were losing the race to the snowmobiles, turned around and attacked to end the harassment. You can bet those locals never peeped a word to authorities about THOSE wolf attacks. ;-)


Tue, Jul 10, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Rick, you didn't mention if you have watched more than that one episode of that show. While you are correct there are only two known instances of a wolf/wolves killing a human people that have wolves hanging around their properties are still careful. For one, that man on the first episode talked about a grizzly that was hanging around and finding grizzly and wolf tracks near his homestead, he is afraid for his wife and especially his dogs lives as a wolf will go after a dog. I have extended family in Montana and have been many times. Every morning there is evidence of wolves around the house, like AROUND the house, like they circled it, they've even found muddy prints on the windows before! You can hear the howls all night, eerie but beautiful. The wolves are respected, but you still don't go for a walkabout alone or unarmed, just in case. Several people we know have lost pets and ranch dogs, some several dogs along with livestock. A rancher will get mad over some sheep but it is horrible to see an old cowboy cry over losing his beloved dog(s) and sometimes finding the bloody mess of what is left of one. Wolves are wicked smart, if they felt they had the upper hand at an opprotunity they would probably take it, or that fear that they could is enough to keep people respectfully afraid of wolves. also, if the general public thinks that wolves attack people routinely enough to keep them out of a beautiful state that is fine with me :)

Rick Taylor

Wed, Jul 11, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

I have watched the show more than once, just thought you should know that I'm not writing this article as a "knee jerk" reaction. I've listened to this sort of thing for years and just thought I'd write about it. I do agree that I'd be scared to death if a pack of wolves (let alone one) surrounded me. But, with that being said I think the public should know that kill numbers are ridiculously low. Thank you for your comment.