Facts about wolves in Europe

Posted on 13 September 2023

There are many questions about the wolf’s presence in Europe and subsequently, many misconceptions and statements not based on scientific evidence. Below, we present facts and provide answers to the commonly asked questions on the wolves in Europe.

Fact 1: Wolves in Europe are NOT dangerous to humans.

In Europe, the wolf is not considered to be dangerous for humans by scientists. The claim that the concentration of wolf packs has become a danger for livestock and potentially for humans is not based on science. There have been no fatal attacks on humans reported in Europe in the 21st century. 

Scientific evidence has shown that wolves do not treat humans as prey, and fatal encounters are exceptional, in contrast to other real and significant threats to human life that should be tackled immediately (such as extreme weather events or car accidents and pollution). Damage to livestock is often linked to the lack of adequate supervision and/or physical protection. 

Fact 2: Wolves play a key role in maintaining healthy ecosystems and biodiversity 

Wolves, like other large carnivores, are predators and are at the top of the trophic pyramid of the ecosystem, playing a vital role in maintaining ecosystem balance and healthy biodiversity. For instance, they regulate ungulate populations (e.g. deer, wild boars) which benefits other animal and plant species. 

Wolves are an integral part of Europe's natural heritage as they can improve habitats and contribute to restoring natural processes and thus our ecosystems. Their presence ensures that our ecosystems are balanced and in good condition with numerous animals and plants thriving. 

Fact 3: We already have effective tools available to protect livestock 

To avoid conflicts, preventive measures to protect livestock need to be introduced, implemented and adequately supported, as well as appropriate compensation measures.  

EU and national guideline documents, good practices, and tools are available to prevent and compensate for the economic damage caused by wolves. Good practices include the training of dogs to protect herds, education of herders, tools and technical solutions to deter wolves.

The European Union Guidelines for State Aid in the agricultural sector allow EU Member States to grant full compensation to farmers for damages caused by protected animals, such as wolves. This also makes it possible to fully reimburse the costs of investments made to prevent such damages, for example installing electric fences or acquiring guard dogs.

In addition, rural development funds in the EAFRD have the potential to support coexistence,
notably via investments and increased agro-environmental area payments for areas where the presence of large predators might prevent the delivery of environmentally beneficial grazing practices. This funding possibility is to date not fully exploited by Member States. 

Fact 4: Shooting wolves to protect livestock is ineffective

There is no scientific evidence that culling, including a steered hunting regime, is an effective and sustainable solution to large carnivore-related livestock conflicts. The study for the PETI committee on large carnivores concluded that “preventive measures are the most rationale and effective way to decrease and prevent depredation” and that “Scientific research has shown that the culling and hunting of large carnivores is usually ineffective or even counterproductive in reducing depredations on livestock unless the level of extraction is so high as to compromise the viability and functionality of the carnivores population. Culling and hunting are also ineffective in improving the social acceptance of the presence of large carnivores.”

Fact 5: Member States have ample flexibility to address potential problems with wolves 

When there is a need to use lethal measures, the Habitats Directive’s Article 16 offers sufficient flexibility to Member States to be granted derogation under clearly defined conditions. The number of animals that can be killed in a certain area must not exceed a well-defined limited amount and must be considered on a case-by-case basis, when all other alternative solutions have failed and by following the provisions of the Habitats Directive. 

Fact 6: Wolves can bring benefits to local communities

While wolves play an important role in balancing our ecosystems, their presence can also be beneficial to local communities. 

Wolves increase wilderness attractiveness of a given natural area which in turn boosts eco-tourism in such places. Naturally, this form of tourism has to be arranged with necessary care, keeping in mind that people shouldn’t interfere with the behavioural patterns of wolves. 

Fact 7: There are numerous success stories of coexistence in Europe

More than 80 projects of the EU LIFE Programme, carried out since 1992, have demonstrated that coexistence with wolves is possible. There are numerous successful stories on the coexistence between humans and wolves in different corners of Europe. 

There are various effective preventive measures to ensure such coexistence, for instance installing different types of fences, acquiring livestock guard dogs or shepherding should be introduced and encouraged by Member States. 

Fact 8: Wolf populations are recovering but they are far from favourable status

Wolf populations are increasing, thanks to the strict protection of the species. However, they are as yet far from being in Favourable Conservation Status across the continent. According to the latest IUCN assessment, of the 9 transboundary wolf populations in the EU, 6 have a vulnerable or near-threatened status. In addition, the wolf is still in unfavourable-inadequate conservation status in 6 out of 7 biogeographical regions. 

Fact 9: Wolves have returned naturally across Europe 

Contrary to a common misconception, wolves have not been reintroduced to the EU but have returned naturally. Natural processes such as dispersal of new individuals, recolonization of former (historical range) and establishment of meta-populations have resulted in the growing number of wolf populations and their increased range across the continent. 

However, wolves in Finland have been occasionally translocated across the country to avoid the Swedish population becoming genetically isolated (wolves are hunted in the Reindeer Herding Area and therefore cannot pass through easily). 

Wolves play a vital role in maintaining ecosystem balance and healthy biodiversity. They can improve habitats and contribute to restoring natural processes and thus our ecosystems.
© Staffan Wildstrand