Eurasian Wolf Explained

The Eurasian Wolf (Canis lupus lupus), also known as the Common Wolf, European Wolf, Carpathian Wolf, Steppes Wolf, Tibetan Wolf and Chinese Wolf is a subspecies of the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus). Originally spread over most of Eurasia, with a southern limit of the Himalayas, the Hindukush, the Koppet Dag, the Caucasus, the Black Sea and the Alps, and a northern limit between 60° and 70° northern latitude, it has been pushed back from most of Western Europe and Eastern China, surviving mostly in Central Asia. Currently, it has the largest range among wolf subspecies and is the most common in Europe and Asia, ranging through Western Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, China, Mongolia and the Himalayan Mountains.

Features and adaptations

European wolves typically have shorter, denser fur than their North American counterparts.[1] Their size varies according to region, though as a whole, adults stand at 30 inches (76 centimetres) at the shoulder and weigh around 70-130 pounds (32-59 kilograms), with females usually being about twenty per cent smaller than males.[2] The heaviest known Eurasian wolf was killed in Romania and weighed 158 pounds (72 kilograms).[3] Colour ranges from white, cream, red, grey and black, sometimes with all colors combined. Wolves in central Europe tend to be more richly coloured than those in Northern Europe.[4] Eastern European wolves tend to be shorter and more heavily built than Northern Russian ones.[4]


They are highly social animals, though due to a decline in territory, they form smaller packs than in North America.[1] Social behaviour seems to vary from region to region, an example being that wolves living in the Carpathians tend to be predominantly solitary hunters.[5] The alpha male and female mate between January and March. Litters, usually consisting of six cubs, are born seven weeks later in a den dug among bushes or rocks. The male brings food back to the den, either by carrying it whole or by swallowing and then regurgitating it for the others to eat. As the cubs grow, the mother and other members of the pack help to feed them.

Theodore Roosevelt considered the Eurasian wolf to be stronger and more ferocious than North America's Great Plains Wolf (Canis lupus nubilus), though comparable in strength to the large Rocky Mountain Wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis).[6]


The diet of Eurasian wolves varies enormously throughout their ranges. They commonly prey on medium sized ungulates like moufflon, chamois, saiga, wild boar, red deer, roe deer and livestock. They will occasionally eat smaller prey such as frogs and hares. In Europe, their largest prey is the wisent, while in Asia, it is the yak.

Because of increasing shortage of natural prey, wolves are sometimes forced to give up their pack-hunting habits, and scavenge for food around villages and farmhouses. Many rural villages have open dumps where the local slaughterhouse disposes of its waste. Many wolves feed there alongside feral or stray dogs.[7]


Due to comparative studies on the Mitochondrial DNA of various wolf subspecies, it is now theorized that the European line of wolves originated over 150,000 years ago, making them around the same age as North American wolves, but significantly younger than Asiatic subspecies.[8] The wolves of the Italian peninsula are morphological and genetical distinct from other European wolves and may represent a separate subspecies (Canis lupus italicus)[9] . The wolves of the Iberian peninsula are also accepted as a distinct subspecies (Canis lupus sigatus)[10] .

North American domestic dogs are believed to have originated from Eurasian wolves. The first people to colonize North America 12,000 to 14,000 years ago brought their dogs with them from Asia, and apparently did not separately domesticate the wolves they found in New World.[11]


In England, the various Norman kings (reigning from 1066 to 1152 A.D.) employed servants as wolf hunters and many held lands granted on condition they fulfilled this duty. King Edward I who reigned from 1272 to 1307 ordered the total extermination of all wolves in his kingdom and personally employed one Peter Corbet, with instructions to destroy wolves in the counties of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire, areas near the Welsh Marches where wolves were more common than in the southern areas of England. The wolf became extinct in England during the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509). It is known that wolves survived in Scotland up until the 18th century.[12] During the reign of James VI, wolves were considered such a threat to travellers that special houses called "spittals" were erected on the highways for protection.[13] The last wolf in Scotland was supposedly killed in 1743, by an old man named McQueen in the Findhorn Valley of Morayshire.[12]

In Imperial Russia 1890, a document was produced stating that 161 people had been killed by wolves in 1871.[13] In early 20th century Russia, the newly formed Soviet government worked heavily to eradicate wolves and other predators during an extensive land reclamation program. Government officials instructed the Red army to exterminate predators on sight; a project that was carried out very efficiently. During The Great Patriotic War, when the Russian government focused its attention on repelling the Nazi invasion, Wolf populations were given some respite, and actually increased, though after Germany's defeat, wolf exterminations resumed. The wolf survived mostly because of the vast amount of territory devoid of humans. The first actual Soviet studies on wolves were limited to finding new ways of destroying them. From the 1970s to the 1990s, attitudes began to change in a way which favored protecting the wolf.[14]

During World War I, starving wolves had amassed in great numbers in Kovno and began attacking Russian and German fighting forces, causing the two fighting armies to form a temporary truce to fight off the animals.[15]

In parts of Romania, during the reign of Nicolae Ceauşescu, a reward equal to a quarter of a month's pay was offered to rangers killing wolf cubs. Full-grown wolves killed by any method at all resulted in as much as a half-month's pay. [16]

In the Kazakh SSR, some 1,000 professional hunters killed thousands of the wolves yearly to collect government bounties. In 1988, just before the Soviet economy collapsed, the hunters killed 16,000 wolves. [17]

Current status

In Norway, in 2001, the Norwegian Government authorised a controversial wolf cull on the grounds that the animals were overpopulating and were responsible for the killing of more than 600 sheep in 2000. The Norwegian authorities, whose original plans to kill 20 wolves were scaled down amid public outcry.[18] In 2005, the Norwegian government proposed another cull, with the intent of exterminating 25% of Norway's wolf population. A recent study of the wider Scandinavian wolf population concluded there were 120 individuals at the most, causing great concern on the genetic health of the population.[19]

Wolves cross over the border from Russia into Finland on a regular basis. Although they're protected under EU law, Finland has issued hunting permits on a preventative basis in the past, which resulted in the European Commission taking legal action in 2005. In June 2007 the European Court of Justice ruled that Finland had breached the Habitats Directive but that both sides had failed in at least one of their claims.[20] Finland's wolf population is estimated at around 250.[20]

Romania has no direct livestock depredation control, however, if complaints about losses get too high, the holder of the hunting rights for the area might apply to kill a higher number of wolves during the winter hunting season. Poaching of carnivores occurs to some degree by means of traps, snares, or poison. The CLCP (Carpathian Large Carnivore Project) has initiated the use of electric fences as an additional tool for overnight livestock protection. The first tests have been very encouraging, with no losses of livestock at all.[21]

In Slovakia the 1994 Law on Protection of Nature and Landscape gave wolves full protection, though there is an annual two-month open season between 1 November to 15 January.[7]

Bulgaria considers the wolf a pest and there's a bounty equivalent to two week's average wages on their heads. [22] . A project run by the Balkani Wildlife Centre aims to reduce conflict between farmers and wolves by supplying Livestock guarding dogs as well as by educating the locals about large carnivores and their role in nature.

According to estimates of experts from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, there are 130 to 170 wolves in Croatia and their population is presently stable.[23] . Attitudes are changing in favour of wolves and the animals are now protected under Croatian law [24] . Furthermore, there have been cases of villagers reporting injured wolves to biologists rather than simply killing them. [24]

Though wolf populations have increased in Ukraine, wolves remain unprotected there and can be hunted year-round by permit-holders.[7]

In Russia, government backed wolf exterminations have been largely discontinued since the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result, their numbers have stabilized somewhat, though they are still hunted legally. It is estimated that nearly 15,000 of Russia's wolves are killed annually for the fur trade and because of human conflict and persecution. Due to the new capitalist government's focus on economy, and other issues plaguing the former communist nation, the study of wolves has been largely discontinued from lack of funding.[14]

Kazakhstan is currently thought to have the largest wolf population of any nation in the world, as many as 90,000, versus some 60,000 for Canada, which is three halves times larger. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, wolf hunting has decreased in profit. About 2,000 are killed yearly for a $40 bounty, and the animal’s numbers have risen sharply. At the same time, poachers have reduced the Kazakhstani wolf’s main prey species, the saiga antelope, from 1.5 million to perhaps 150,000, selling horns to the Chinese, who use it in traditional medicine. The great number of saiga accounted for the large number of wolves in Kazakhstan. Now, after the antelope’s decline wolves encroach upon human habitations in the Winter periods and attack livestock. In the spring, they go back to the remote, lightly wooded Amangeldy Hills to reproduce and feed on small mammals.[17]

China apparently considers wolves as a "catastrophe" and claims that they live in only twenty per cent of their former habitat in the northern regions of the country.[2] In 2006, the Chinese government began plans to auction licences for foreigners to hunt wild animals, including endangered species such as wolves. The licence to shoot a wolf can apparently be acquired for $200.[25]

The British Government signed conventions in the 1980s and 1990's, agreeing to consider reintroducing wolves and to promote public awareness about them. Being party to European conventions, the British government is obligated to study the desirability of reintroducing extinct species and to consider reintroducing wolves. Although there are indications that wolves are recolonizing areas in Western Europe, they are unable to return to their former ranges in Britain without active human assistance.The Scottish Highlands are one of the few large areas in western Europe with a relatively tiny human population, thus ensuring that wolves would suffer little disturbance from human activity.One popular argument in favour of the reintroduction is that the Highland's red deer populations have overpopulated and a reintroduction of wolves would aid in keeping their numbers down, thus allowing the native flora some respite. Other arguments include the generatation of income and local employment in the Highlands through wolf ecotourism which could replace the declining and uneconomic Highland sheep industry.[26]

Hybridization with dogs

Wild hybrids

Some concern has been expressed that European wolf populations have hybridized extensively with feral dogs. Scientists reviewed and analyzed surveys of mitochondrial and biparentally inherited genetic markers in dogs and wild populations of wolf-like canids. Although wolfdogs have been observed in the wild, significant genetic contamination of dog genes into wild wolf populations has not yet occurred. Scientific investigations have suggested that hybridization generally is not an important conservation concern even in small wolf populations in close proximity to human settlements. The extent of physical and behavioural differences between dogs and wolves may be great enough to ensure that mating is unlikely and hybrid offspring rarely survive to reproduce in the wild.[27] Attempts to reintroduce wolves to Germany were hampered when dog hybrids were discovered amongst offspring.[28]

Czechoslovakian Wolfdog

In 1955, an experiment took place in the ČSSR which involved mating a German Shepherd Dog with a Carpathian wolf. A decade later, the resulting offspring were selectively bred to possess the best qualities of the dog and combine them with useful attributes of the wolf. This breeding resulted in the creation of what is now known as the Czechoslovakian Wolfdog (Ceskoslovensky Vlcak). The wolfdog is known to be loyal but headstrong, and being much more communicative, expressing itself in ways other than barking. The breed's wolf heritage also grants it a longer lifespan than most other dogs, allowing it to live about 12-16 years.

It was officially recognized as a national breed in the ČSSR in 1982, in 1999 it became FCI standard no. 332, group 1, section 1.[29]


In Norse mythology, Fenrir or Fenrisulfr is a gigantic wolf, the son of Loki and the giantess Angrboða. Fenrir is bound by the gods, but is ultimately destined to grow too large for his bonds and devour Odin during the course of Ragnarök. At that time he will have grown so large that his upper jaw touches the sky while his lower touches the earth when he gapes. He will be slain by Odin's son, Viðarr, who will either stab him in the heart or rip his jaws asunder according to different accounts.

In the Welsh legend of Gelert, Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd returns from hunting to find his baby's cradle overturned, the baby missing and his dog, the titular character, with blood around its mouth. Imagining that it has savaged the child, he draws his sword and kills the dog, which lets out a final dying yelp. He then hears the cries of the baby and finds it unharmed under the cradle, along with a dead wolf which had attacked the child and been killed by Gelert. Llywelyn is then overcome with remorse and he buries the dog with great ceremony, yet he still could hear the dying yell.

Other Media

In Wolf Totem, a semi-autobiography written by the Jiang Rong, the wolves mentioned live on the Mongolian Plains, so they are likely to be Eurasian wolves. The nomadic Mongolians in the story claimed to have learned much from the wolves, including battle tactics that helped them once build a vast empire, as well as understanding the importance in balancing the eco-system on the plains. The wolves were considered respectable rivals of the nomads, and bore a heavy significance in their culture.

External links

Notes and References

  1. Book: Ellis, Shaun. Le Loup : Sauvage et Fascinant. 2006. 2749905389. 225.
  2. Web site: Wolf Subspecies. 2007-05-17.
  3. Book: Gibson, Nancy. Wolves. 1996. ISBN 089658299X. 72.
  4. Book: Hutchinson's animals of all countries; the living animals of the world in picture and story Vol.I. 1923. 384.
  5. Saarlooswolfhond Information and Pictures, Saarloos Wolf Dog, Saarloos Wolf Dogs
  6. Hunting the Grisly and Other Sketches by Theodore Roosevelt - Full Text Free Book (Part 3/3)
  7. Web site: European Wolves. Wolves Of The World. 2007-05-11.
  8. BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Indian wolves are world's oldest
  9. V. LUCCHINI, A. GALOV and E. RANDIEvidence of genetic distinction and long-term population decline in wolves (Canis lupus) in the Italian Apennines. Molecular Ecology (2004) 13, 523–536. abstract online
  10. J. Vos: Food habits and livestock depredation of two Iberian wolf packs (Canis lupus signatus) in the north of Portugal. Journal of Zoology (2000), 251: 457-462 Cambridge University Press. online abstract
  11. Spotlight on Zoo Science: Hiding in Plain Sight - National Zoo| FONZ
  12. Web site: The Disappearance of Wolves in the British Isles. Ivy Stanmore. Wolf Song of Alaska. 2007-09-27.
  13. Book: Matthews, Richard. Nightmares of Nature. 1995. 0002200155. 256.
  14. Wolf Song of Alaska: A History of Wolves in Russia
  16. Web site: Wolves in the Carpathians. Mary Gray. Anglican Wolf Society. 2007-06-15.
  17. Web site: Is Kazakhstan Home to the World’s Largest Wolf Population?. Christopher Pala. National Wildlife Federation. 2007-09-28.
  18. BBC News | EUROPE | Snow hampers Norway wolf cull
  19. BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Norway to kill 25% of its wolves
  20. Web site: WikiNews: EU awards partial victory to Finland over wolf hunting case. 2007-09-10.
  21. Wolves in Romania
  22. Web site: Bulgaria. 2007-09-10.
  23. Wolf Song of Alaska: Conservation and Management of Wolves in Croatia
  24. Web site: WolfPrint Issue 26. PDF. Josip Kusak. UK Wolf Conservation Trust. 2007-09-10.
  25. BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China to promote wild animal hunt
  26. Wolf Trust: understanding of wolves & natural heritage of Scottish Highlands
  27. IngentaConnect Hybridization between Wolves and Dogs Hibridacion entre Perros y
  28. Web site: "Claws reveal wolf survival threat". Paul Rincon. BBC online. 2007-05-11.
  29. Czechoslovakian Wolfdog Information and Pictures, Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs