WOLVES – Nature’s Sanitizers?

Environmentalists like to claim that wolves are the “sanitizers” of nature and fill an essential role in maintaining a “balanced” ecosystem.   The mantra goes that wolves only eat the old, the sick, and the disabled.  Of course nothing could be further from the truth.

Leopold wolf pack hunting bull elk;Doug Smith;May 2007
YNP photo. Click image to enlarge.

Wolf biologists and other wildlife observers in various countries all over the world have noted that wolves are able to sense disease and will choose to by-pass sick animals in order to prey on the youngest and healthiest specimens.  Wolves do prey on injured animals, but often those injuries were caused by the wolves themselves.  Wolves will bite through the hamstrings of large mature, and essentially healthy ungulates such as bull moose, bison, or elk and then return days or weeks later to finish off the animal after it has become severely weakened by blood loss and infection.   Wolves prefer to prey on the very young and/or pregnant females whenever the opportunity arises.

Watch this video of a mother moose trying to protect her newborn calf:


This week a rancher in Wallowa County, OR reported that a pregnant cow had been killed by wolves.  ODFW investigated the incident.  Here is a portion of their report:

Summary of evidence: The estimated time of death of the cow was early the morning of 1/28/13. A clear struggle scene was observed in the snow which showed multiple wolf tracks and large amounts of blood scattered over a large area of the carcass. Though partially consumed, ample carcass remained for investigation. The cow had suffered multiple bites in the typical wolf attack areas – behind the front shoulders, in front of the front shoulders and brisket area, groin and anterior portion of hind legs, and rump/udder area. Bites clearly showed heavy internal hemorrhage indicating pre-mortem attack. The fetus of the cow had been removed and mostly consumed – similar to past confirmed depredations of adult cows by the Imnaha Pack. All evidence (wolves present at scene, bite marks and locations, struggle scene with multiple wolf tracks, and internal hemorrhage) indicates wolf attack.” [1]

The rancher and ODFW estimated that the attack lasted over eight hours as the mother cow struggled to defend herself.  Her fetus was eaten first, then the wolves began feeding on her uterus and hindquarters long before she died.  Wolf packs have the capacity to kill any animal regardless of size or age and are extremely efficient at reducing the overall prey base.  If spreading disease, destroying ungulate herds, and eating livestock is considered “sanitization”, then I guess the environmentalists have a point.

In previous posts I noted dozens of diseases spread by wolves, including parvo, mange, rabies and over 50 species of parasites, including hydatid disease. Without intense management, the natural population cycle between predator and prey species fluctuates wildly.  If there is one thing the wolf is good at, it is their proficiency at killing other species by a variety of methods, both seen and unseen.  The magnitude of the problem is best exemplified by Professor Valerius Geist who has proposed that to clean up the billions of hydatid cysts deposited in wolf feces every day across the landscape will require the systematic burning of millions of acres.  Click here for Geist’s article entitled, Response to the Claims That Hydatid Disease Spread by Wolves Does Not Represent a Significant Threat to Humans.

There are numerous accounts suggesting that the wolf population grows exponentially in times of political unrest, climate change, famine and war.  According to author Will Graves, the population of wolves in Russia spiked during both World Wars. [2]

The following excerpt is from an article entitled:  World War 1 History: Russian Wolves, Business As Usual and War Horses  by David Hunt:

“In the winter of 1916-1917, the Eastern Front stretched for more than a thousand miles from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. During that winter, half-starved Russian wolves converged on both the German and Russian lines in the northern part of the front in the Vilnius-Minsk region. As their desperation increased beyond their fear of humans, the wolves started attacking individuals but were soon attacking groups of soldiers so viciously and often that something had to be done. The soldiers tried poisoning them, shooting them with their rifles and machine guns and even using grenades against them, but the large and powerful Russian wolves were so hungry, fresh wolf packs simply replaced those that were killed.”

“The situation grew so severe that the Russian and German soldiers convinced their commanders to allow temporary truce negotiations to enable them to deal with the animals more effectively. Once the terms were worked out, the fighting stopped and the two sides discussed how to resolve the situation. Finally, a coordinated effort was made and gradually the packs were rounded up. Hundreds of wolves were killed during the process while the rest scattered, leaving the area once and for all to the humans. The problem was solved, the truce was called off and the soldiers got back to killing each other properly.”[3]

There is something deeply disturbing to the human psyche about leaving a wounded comrade to be torn apart by wolves.  Even when humans are engaged in the bloodiest forms of warfare, there is a limit to the barbarity we will tolerate.

12 thoughts on “WOLVES – Nature’s Sanitizers?

  1. I’d never heard that the Russians and Germans had banded together in a concerted fight against wolves during WW1, and subsequently resuming the war upon eradicating these wolves. Very interesting indeed! Goes to show how relentless wolves can be, and how they’ll most certainly attack humans when their usual prey are not abundance.

    Also, there’s an apt analogy between the behavior of the wolves in the account you cited above, in the way in which they attacked the pregnant cow and devoured her fetus first before feeding on the mother before actually killing her, and the way in which ‘wolves’ perform human abortions. Of course, the mother is not physically killed in the human abortion process, but there is no doubt of emotional, and I’d argure spiritual, wounding. In addition, there’s a possibility that induced abortions may well increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

  2. The two sides agreed to several temporary truces to take care of the wounded and the wolf problem behind their own lines. As for the wolves, they were simply seeking alternate prey as nearly all ungulate species were severely reduced over vast regions as a result of the war(s). Wolves NEVER starve! When their primary prey base is exhausted they will cover vast distances seeking alternate prey. When alternate prey runs out, they turn on each other. Diseases such as parvo and rabies reduce wolf numbers when the prey base is exhausted. Wolves do get lean and very hungry and become much more aggressive, but they do not starve unless they are sick or injured and have lost the ability to kill.

  3. Ruth

    I’ve been looking at the statistical interagency reports for 2011 put out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the statistics re: Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery – Of particular interest are those reports covering Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington State. I’m puzzled by some of their statistics, primarily as to the numbers of livestock and domestic animal fatalties by wolves for 2011. This doesn’t seem to be in agreement with what you have read or found reported at the local meetings by area ranchers. The numbers in these reports seem low as to the number of wolf packs, livestock killings, and decrease of the ungulate population in comparison to the seriousness of the issue as we are hearing from our local ranchers and hunters.


    Also, related to your current article, I’ve just read through a page of frequently asked questions from the same source as the reports above. In light of what you have reported about the extent of the problem ranchers are experiencing, as well as the disturbing moose calf evidence in the video the answer given to Question
    ( 8) “Do wolves really take the old, young, sick, starving, or injured animals?” struck me as an example of incomplete, intentionally vague reporting. The Q&A report is 5 years old so could be it’s overdue for a revision/ update of the facts.

    Click to access qandasgraywolfbiology.pdf

    US Fish and Wildlife Service Grey Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains News, Information and Recovery Status Reports Homepage:


  4. The USFWS and most state agencies, i.e. WDFW, are not reporting the facts. In many cases, they don’t know the facts or have a vested interest in concealing the facts. For example, when asked at meetings, in person, basic questions about the prey base, WDFW didn’t have ANY answers. They don’t know how many elk or white tail deer we have in Washington State because they’ve NEVER counted them. They estimate the health of the ungulate population based on whether or not hunters filled all the allotted tags or not AFTER each hunting season. They make adjustments for the next season’s allotment of tags up or down accordingly. So how do they know how many wolves there are and how many wolves can be supported in WA by the available prey base? All wolf population estimates are based on confirmed sightings ONLY. Ever seen a wild wolf? I haven’t. But I do know many people, including relatives and close friends, who live near Spokane who are seeing wolves on their property regularly, but these are NOT COUNTED AS CONFIRMED SIGHTINGS! While it is a fact that if you look at the overall cattle industry in America, or even here in WA State where it’s a 1.5 billion dollar industry, predation only comprises a small fraction of losses. But a small local rancher with 100, 200 or 300 head can’t afford to lose 15% to 20% or more of their calves to wolf depredation each and every year. Even though the number of cattle killed by wolves compared to how many cattle exist in America is still relatively insignificant, it will continue to severely impact our small local growers disproportionately. The bigger boys running the feedlots simply don’t care and would probably not mind to see their competition eliminated. The corporations really don’t care if beef prices go up, they just pass it on to the consumer. Just wait until this summer when our local wolf population doubles, or by fall when it triples. Pups are born in April, and wolves will continue to move in from B.C. and Idaho because they have something to eat here and no one can stop them.

  5. Grace

    What a load of emotional bollocks!!! Wolves are animals and need to survive as all animals, including humans, do. Now how on earth does an analogy between humans (supposedly with some intellect) engaged in killing each other during a war equate with wolf packs seeking out a resource on which to survive equate??? Beyond me I’m afraid.

  6. Grace, thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment.

    I’m not sure I understand your question, but the David Hunt excerpt about war and wolves is not an analogy, it’s history. The countryside had been rendered completely devoid of game by warfare and by an over abundance of wolves. The wolves were, as you say, “seeking out a resource on which to survive” and taking advantage of one of the few food sources still available to them.

    Men from opposing sides, while engaged in some of the bloodiest fighting of the entire war, declared a truce, or multiple truces, and stopped what they were doing because both sides agreed that allowing wolves to devour their comrades, whether dead or alive, was unacceptable, even while the two sides were engaged in blowing each other apart. That is not a scenario we can even imagine because we simply weren’t there, but I find the account quite profound and thought provoking. These men knew what the wolves were doing and refused to allow it.

    No, wolves didn’t “need” to survive in those particular areas, just as wolves don’t “need” to survive in my backyard.

  7. thomas m murphy

    wolves are opportunist, makes sense to me.. are you saying man is an ethical hunter, not hardly, they’ll take the biggest and the strongest for their ego’s..
    wolves were here along with the Indians, we are the intruders and the disrupters – that will never change. once again man and his ego wants to eliminate something that takes something they want for themselves-how pathetic. this whole article is worthless..

  8. Thomas m murphy has left a typical response from the pro-wolf side. First, he puts words in my mouth that I did not say, then changes the subject. He says “wolves were here along with the Indians, we are the intruders and the disrupters”…

    Logic and common sense seem to elude Mr. Murphy, since “Indians” spent all their time displacing each other and fighting over prime territory, slaves, and women. One tribe, the Hopi, claim to have been the first people to inhabit the new world, and refer to their neighbors the Navaho as “invaders”. But being someplace first, does not make one a native. Russell Means, Lakota, said it best…”Anyone born in the western hemisphere, is a native American.”

    Another fact lost on Mr. Thomas, is that species commonly displace and disrupt other species. Darwin called it “natural selection” but we know it as “survival of the fittest”, or advantage to the best adapted.

    Currently, in our NW forests, Barred Owls are naturally displacing Spotted Owls, or are they? Seems the invaders from the east are breeding with the Spotted’s everywhere the two “species” come in contact, in WA, OR, and CA, and producing thousands of hybrid offspring. If the trend continues, the Spotted’s could soon lose their protected “endangered” status, as the two species appear to actually be one species capable of producing fertile offspring. The Barreds are actually saving the Spotteds, through incorporation, and diversification of the Spotted’s genome, much to the chagrin of the REWILDERS, who really really NEED Spotteds to be kept on the endangered species list in order to keep the evil white men from logging the forest thus saving it from bug infestations and catastrophic fires.

  9. I find Mr. Murphy’s comment rather humorous, as it exemplifies something I wrote about a few years ago:


    With some, like Mr. Murphy here, when their sensibilities are offended, they experience cognitive dissonance, and this causes them to erect straw men regarding the perceived ‘opposing’ viewpoint and then proceed to tear down these straw men, effectively never engaging with the actual points brought up, because they’ve failed to logically analyze the views of the author of the piece, and, consequently, in an emotional state, make conclusions such as “this whole article is worthless”

    Straw man 1: “they’ll [man] take the biggest and strongest for their ego’s [sic]”

    Where does this article state or imply anything about killing wolves as some sort of sportsman’s prize?

    Straw man 2: “once again man—the ‘intruders and disrupters’—and his ego wants to eliminate something…”

    Where does this article state or imply the desire to eliminate wolves altogether?

    Because he’s utterly failed to engage substantively with the contents of this article, I’ll rephrase Mr. Murphy’s conclusion in my own response to his comment: Your ‘response’ is worthless. [Well, perhaps that’s a bit harsh, as it did at least provide a bit of humor for me.]

    Given his ‘response’ here, my prediction is Mr. Murphy will not comment further, thus exemplifying the ‘hit and run’ blog commenter, as my article notes in its concluding paragraph.

  10. This article underlines the injunction in Genesis 1:28:
    “God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the [al]sky and over every living thing that [am]moves on the earth.”

    Subdue is not bad, it is not ‘exploit’, it is ‘manage it for human habitation’.

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