Wildlife Guide: Gray Wolf

ALTHOUGH IT IS DEBATED WHEN THE FIRST WOLF JOINED MAN AT THE CAMPFIRE (15,000 YEARS AGO? 30,000?) IT IS CERTAIN THAT OUR STORIES HAVE BEEN ENTWINED WITH THIS SHY, BRAVE, PLAYFUL, SERIOUS, LOYAL, FAMILY ORIENTED, LONER, EVER SINCE.   IMAGE: ©GLENNAGAL⎮DREAMSTIME.COM  

Did You Know?

Gray Wolf Fun Facts!  

WOLVES ARE QUITE SHY, THEY WOULD RATHER AVOID HUMANS. IMAGE: ©TWILDLIFE⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

1.    Wolf packs are (usually) family: The parents or breeding pair lead the offspring, from newborns to near adults.

2.    Wolves Play: Even adult wolves make “toys” of sticks or other found miscellaneous flotsam-and-jetsam. “Tug of War” is a favorite.

3.    On the road again: A gray wolf’s territory can span from 50 to 950 square miles (130 – 2,470 sq. km)

4.    Helpless as a baby: Gray wolf pups are born blind and deaf.   

5.    Hungry as a wolf: Wolves do prey most on the older or weaker big ungulates – but they sometimes eat mice, rabbits, and other small creatures.

6.    The big bad … who? Wild wolves are quite shy. Especially with humans, they will more often avoid people than appear and frighten them.        

Sometimes Called

Most commonly, the gray wolf is called timber wolf or plains wolf in the U.S., but they have many other names usually attached to the subspecies or local to the regions they populate. See the end of the article for more information on subspecies.   

MUCH LIKE HUMAN INFANTS WOLF CUBS CAN BE NOISY, HOWLING AT ANYTHING, ANYTIME. AFTER A FEW MONTHS THEY LEARN THEIR PACK MATES VOICES AND SOME PROPER COMMUNICATION RULES. NEAR THEIR DEN IN MONTANA.  IMAGE:: ©OUTDOORSMAN⎮DREAMSTIMEMAGEO.COM 


Relatively Speaking

THE ENDANGERED RED WOLF IS A RELATED BUT DISTINCT CANID SPECIES, NOT A SUB-SPECIES OF THE GRAY WOLF. IMAGE: ©JEAN-EDUARD ROZEY⎮DREAMSTIME.COM 

Genus and Species: Canis lupus

Subspecies of Gray Wolf: 

Since 1995, scientists have recognized five subspecies of gray wolf in North America and six to ten in Eurasia.  Please see “Conservation Notes” below and “More on Subspecies” at the end of the article for additional information.

Closest Living Relative:

Canis lupus familiaris better known as the domestic dog.

Other Related Species:

1. The red wolf: Canis rufus, notable as the only species to be brought back from extinction in the wild through a captive breeding program. Their range and low numbers are limited mostly to South Carolina.   

2. Eastern wolf: Canis lycaon, were recently given species status by some researchers (but other experts still considered the Eastern wolf and red wolf to be gray wolf subspecies). The Eastern wolf is found in the eastern United States.

3. The Ethiopian wolf: Canis simensis, is considered by some researchers to be the most endangered wolf species, other researchers consider it to be a jackal and not a wolf at all.

4. Himalayan wolf: Canis himalayensis or Canis chanco, which some experts now believe to be a separate species but until recently was thought to be a gray wolf subspecies.

5. Indian wolf: (Canis lupus pallipes). These are found in the agro pastoral semi-arid regions of India, primarily outside of protected areas.

6. Golden jackal: The population of animals historically considered the species called golden jackal, (Canis aureus) was found in a recent study to be two different species, one of which is actually a wolf and the other a jackal. The name given to this new wolf species is African golden wolf with Canis anthus proposed by the study authors as the scientific name.

What is the Difference? Gray Wolf vs. Domestic Dog

Are gray wolves just big dogs? No, but, there is evidence that a kind of mutual respect between early man and wolf lead to their “teaming up” as long as 32,000 years ago, and this was probably the first step in the evolution of Canis lupus familiaris.

Physically May Look the Similar

THE MAIN DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DOMESTIC DOGS & THEIR WOLF COUSINS IS LOCATED IN THE BRAIN. EVEN IN THE 'WILD" OUR ADORED PETS ARE JUST NOT AS MATURE. IMAGE: R. KRAVETTE 

Gray wolf and domestic dog differ both physically and psychologically. Although certain domestic breeds, German shepherds, malamutes, and huskies, look similar to gray wolves, the physical differences are apparent once you look for them. 

Starting from the paws, the gray wolf’s are proportionately longer and wider, the pads are always black, even in newborns; any pink or white indicates a dog-wolf hybrid, as does any non-black toenail coloring on the extended toes, which in wolves, always have fur between them. 

Domestic dogs have a wider chest and hip area than Canis lupus.  The wolf’s narrower bone structure is responsible for their straight, not rounded or bouncing, backs when running. This condition allows them to “single track” when walking a straight line; their back feet naturally step into the front paw tracks, while domestic dogs will usually leave four distinct paw prints.  Inside, the gray wolf’s brain is proportionately larger, making them more naturally intelligent. The inherent differences between dog and wolf do not stop at their physical characteristics. 

The Main Difference Between Wolves and Dogs is All About Maturity! 

Maturity level is what permanently separates dog from the gray wolf.  An adult domestic dog reaches only the maturity of a very young wolf puppy. Throughout their life, domestic dogs continually want to please. This desire is the key reason why Canis lupus familiaris can be reliably trained, but it is much more challenging, and the results by no means sure, to "train" Canis lupus. By three years of age, the mature wolf is completely independent; they may cooperate, they may tolerate, and they do play – but they are not interested in adjusting their behavior to gratify you.

The wolf is also a good reminder of the adage, “with maturity comes wisdom.” The comparatively immature domestic dog can become the more aggressive animal. While the wolf is powerful enough to bring down a prey animal many times its size, especially in conjunction with its pack, and will forcefully defend its range, it would rather avoid an unnecessary fight. If an intruder is not threatening its survival, i.e. territory, pack, or lunch, it will usually avoid humans. This tendency to avoid discovery makes for challenging wolf viewing. A wild wolf is more likely to be out of sight quietly observing you as you look for them than you are to catch them unawares. 


By The Numbers

ICUN Red List Status: Least Concern 

THE IUCN DESIGNATION OF 'LEAST CONCERN' DOES NOT MEAN "NO CONCERN NECESSARY." WOLF NUMBERS ARE DIFFICULT TO DISCERN AND VARY GREATLY FROM SOURCE TO SOURCE. IS THIS THIS FELLOW STILL AROUND? HE WAS PHOTOGRAPHED IN ALASKA'S DENALI NATIONAL PARK WHERE WOLF HUNTING IS STILL ALLOWED AND THRIVING.   IMAGE: ©OUTDOORSMAN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Gray Wolf Numbers are Confusing

The designation of “Least Concern” a general assessment for total worldwide Canis lupus population and does not consider the status of the different subspecies or populations. 

THIS FELLOW WAS PHOTOGRAPHED IN MINNESOTA WHERE SPORT HUNTING FOR WOLVES IS NOW BANNED. BUT THEY ARE STILL ALLOWED TO BE KILLED  BY THE AUTHORITIES IN DEFENSE OF HUMAN OR LIVE STOCK. IMAGE: ©OUTDOORSMAN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Count All Gray Wolves Together...  

Worldwide up to date population numbers are challenging to find. Existing figures do not necessarily consider all gray wolves on all continents. Statistics reflecting the status of particular subspecies are even more elusive. A region’s wolf population numbers gleaned from one source might be an amalgam of multiple subspecies or even different species lumped together under the general heading, “wolves” - another source might identify the same animals very differently.
                         
                           ...Or By Sub-species? 

Much of the numbers confusion is due to the continually evolving understanding of Canis lupus and its subspecies, making any previous total worldwide gray wolf counts, if they existed, obsolete. Where reliable numbers or other information is available for a local population(s) or subspecies, it will be noted.

How Many Gray Wolves are Left In the Wild

NOTICE TALL GRASS AT WATER'S EDGE. WOLVES HELP KEEP UNGULATES FROM OVER GRAZING OPEN AREAS INCLUDING RIVER & STREAM BANKS. STRENGTHENING THE BANKS KEEPS THE WATER CONTAINED. IT IS PART OF THE TROPHIC CASCADE EFFECT. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING IMAGE: KAR PHOTOGRAPHY 

At one time the gray wolf was the most wildly distributed land mammal on the planet.  They spanned the Northern Hemisphere thriving in habitats as diverse as the Arctic, Canadian boreal forests, and the dry, desert edges of Mexico and the Middle East. Almost anyplace a man in the northern hemisphere could reach, gray wolves were already there.  Then they began to disappear.

VIEW OF ISLE ROYAL FROM MICHIGAN'S BROCKWAY MOUNTAIN DRIVE. WOLVES WALKED ACROSS AN ICE BRIDGE TO THE ISLAND OVER 50 YEARS AGO. IMAGE: ©BONITA CHESHIER⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

In North America where wolves numbers were once estimated in the hundreds of thousands, today there are only 6,000 + in the lower 48 states and somewhere between another 7,700 – 11,000 in Alaska.  In Canada, wild gray wolves may number as many as 55,000-60,000; but in Mexico, there were only thought to be 19 wolves as of early 2016, and even this population is an increase.

Until recently, there was a small, but important population of wild wolves living on Michigan’s Isle Royale, in Lake Superior. It is thought that the first wolves made their way to the island by ice-bridge over 50 years ago. They joined a moose population that, it is largely assumed, arrived by swimming from the mainland. These animals became the subject of what is thought to be the longest continuous study of any predator-system in the world.  Unfortunately, the wolves are dying out from a physical defect caused by inbreeding. With only two wolves recorded in April 2016, the Isle Royale wolves may not exist at all by the time you read this, and the unprecedented study will come to an end. Still, in some parts of their U.S and Mexican range their numbers are increasing. 

WOLVES ARE HUNTED ENTHUSIASTICALLY IN RUSSIA. THIS PELT WAS FOUND IN THE IZMYLOVA FLEA MARKET ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF MOSCOW. IMAGE: ©JULIA161⎮DREAMSTIME.COM 

In western Europe, where they had been driven nearly to extinction,  a new attitude of co-existence with wild nature is providing a more promising situation for the wolves and other large predators and birds - see below: Encouraging News.  The Wolves and Humans Foundation estimates an increase in the European wolf population upwards to a total of 16,000 -18,000 individuals. Unfortunately, the populations are separated, and many consist of only 100-2,000 wolves.

Across their Asian range, wolves are still widely hunted as vermin. 

In Russia perhaps only 30,000 remain, but if included in the total number of wild wolves in Asia there may be as many as 89,000 – 105,000. 

Conservation Notes

THE PHOTOGRAPHER WAS BIKING IN DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA WHEN HE CAUGHT THIS GREY WOLF WATCHING. MAN AND WOLF PARTED WITHOUT INCIDENT. IMAGE: THANKS TO IAN A. JOHNSON, LIFE, WILDLIFE AND WILD-LIFE. 

Since the Middle Ages myth and misunderstanding have driven man’s relationship with wolves. Unfortunately, man tends to kill what he does not understand.

When the first ships left Europe for the New World, wolves in most of the Old World, including Great Britain, Germany, France, Sweden, and Norway, had already been eradicated. In Asia, the last native Japanese wolves are long extinct: Hokkaido Wolf, since 1889, Honshu wolf, since 1905, and there has not been a wild Korean wolf seen in South Korea since 1968. 

CAPTIVE BREEDING PROGRAMS, LIKE THIS ONE AT THE LIVING DESERT IN PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA ARE HELPING TO SAVE THE MEXICAN GRAY WOLF FROM EXTINCTION.  image: ©Lon Dean⎮Dreamstime.com  

In the U.S. - Protected But Not Entirely Safe

Wolves are now protected in most of the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Western Europe, although incidents of wolf killing by ranchers and others are still regularly documented. In the U.S. there continue to be periodic efforts to overturn the wolf’s protected status.

During the 2014-15 season in the state of Idaho alone, licensed hunters killed 250 wolves, and the state took another 72. Aerial gunners shot 19 of these in Lolo Elk Management Zone of Clearwater National Forest on behalf of the Wildlife Services Department of the U.S Department of Agriculture. 

As of February 2016, wolf hunting is legal in Idaho, Montana, and Alaska.  All three states have highly regulated hunting seasons so as to maintain viable wolf populations. Representatives of the International Wolf Center advise us that, "their populations have remained stable despite the hunting which is regulated to just take the surplus animals."

In Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan the wolf has been re-listed as an endangered species and hunting is currently suspended. In part of Oregon wolves have been de-listed but are still protected, and hunting is not allowed. In Arizona and New Mexico, the reintroduction of the Mexican gray wolf into the wild continues to be a contentious and highly litigated issue, but the reintroduced wolf population there has reached 100. Poaching and illegal killing of wolves continue in most protected areas.

Encouraging News

Wolves are an apex predator. Recently, one of the best things to happen for nature, wildlife conservation, and specifically wolves, was the discovery of the link between apex predators and a healthy, bio-diverse environment: the trophic cascade effect. The trophic cascade effect has been the most extensively studied in Yellowstone National Park. Although scientists disagree on many of the results, and the impact that that these predators are having on the ecosystem continues to be closely monitored, most researchers agree there are ecological benefits to reintroduction.

What is the Trophic Cascade Effect? Watch the video below: 

Yellowstone's Wolf Reintroduction Experiment.

With the establishment in 1872 of Yellowstone as the world’s first national park, the U.S. Department of Interiors became protectors of the land; unfortunately, this safeguard did not extend to the wildlife. By 1930 wolves had been eradicated in the park.

Note: not all researchers feel as strongly about the effect of the wolves on Yellowstone as the first video above implies. In the interest of balance, please also view the video at right, The Wolves of Yellowstone, for a more reserved view. 

Trophic Cascade - The Case for Apex Predators

"TROPHY' ANIMALS ARE NOT THE INTEREST OF WOLVES WHO CULL WEAK, SICK, AND YOUNG, LEAVING THE BIGGEST AND BEST TO BREED. IMAGE. ©MALISSA SCHALKE⎮DREAMSTIME.COM  

By 1995, the time of the first wolf's reintroduction, the ecologically unbalanced park, had changed – and not for the better.  Weaker, less healthy elk herds, were out of control. Unchecked ungulate overgrazing diminished aspen and willow. Fewer and shorter aspens and willow trees meant reduced songbird-nesting areas hence an overall reduction in the songbirds themselves. 

Similar impacts were noted on trout populations.  Trout thrive in clear cold streams, but the overgrazed river and stream banks allowed significantly more silt and mud into the streams and the lack of tree shade resulted in warmer water.

After 20 years, wolves have helped reduce elk numbers, and there is some evidence that aspen and willow may be increasing. Over a long enough period, perhaps in the next few decades, other changes such as more songbirds might be documented.  

In December 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reinstated Canis lupus as “protected” (in much but not all of the country) under the Endangered Species Act. 

Captive Breeding for a Sub-Species on the Brink

On the other hand, local conservation support is also gaining momentum.  In April 2015, against much opposition, two more adult Mexican wolves were released from captive breeding programs into Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, raising their total wild population to at least 97 individuals and possibly more than 100. And in November 2016, it was announced that at least two Mexican wolf cubs, also from a captive breeding program, were released into wild litters and are surviving. 

THANKS TO THE EUROPEAN UNION HABITAT DIRECTIVE OF 1992, GRAY WOLVES, BEAR, LYNX & OTHER SPECIES ARE RETURNING.  ©GRAHAMTAYLOR ⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

The Wilding of Europe

The European Union Habitat Directive of 1992 encouraged an attitude of“land sharing” between humans and large predators (wolves, bears, big cats, etc.). This approach led to an increase in wildlife, including apex predators, a healthier environment, and a new understanding of, and solutions for, wildlife/human conflict.  Wolves are recovering and even returning to some of their historic ranges.

Gray wolves can now be seen in 28 European countries, many of which are developing responsible wildlife tourism industries similar to that in Africa; in fact, wolf “safaris” are becoming quite popular.  


Identify Me

LONE GRAY WOLVES, LIKE THS ONE ON NORTHERN MINNESOTA, WILL TRAVEL HUNDREDS, EVEN THOUSANDS OF MILES IN THEIR QUEST TO FIND  A MATE. IMAGE: ©OUTDOORSMAN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Size

ALL BLACK COLORING MAY HAVE BEEN A RESULT OF WOLF/DOMESTIC DOG MATING 30,000 YEARS AGO. IMAGE: ©LYNN BYSTROM⎮DREAMSTIME.COM. 

Adult Height (subspecies average): 26 to 32 inches at the shoulder(66 to 81 cm)
Adult Weight: (subspecies average): 60 to 135 pounds(27 to 61 kg)

Different subspecies vary greatly in size, but typically the females are at the low end of the spectrum, about 20% smaller than males. The largest wolves in North America are thought to be the Canadian at 70-135 pounds (32–60 kg); the smallest, averaging just 50-85 pounds (23-39 kg) is the Mexican gray wolf. Worldwide, the largest tundra wolf can tip the scales at a whopping 172 pounds (78 kg), but the wolf in Israel can weigh as little as 30 pounds (14 kg).

Distinguishing Characteristics

Unlike domestic dogs, their long, bushy, tails are always straight, never curled. Adult wolf eyes are gold to dark goldish-brown. The wolf’s double-layer coat can range in color from stark white to black with most in the tawny-brown to gray range. In early summer, the inner layer of fur molts in clumps. An adult wolf‘s hair-filled ears stand erect – although size varies depending on the subspecies.

A note on fur color: Recent studies have indicated that an all-black wolf may have been the result of wolf / domestic dog mating. The earliest possible dog specimen dates back to about 30,000 years ago. 


Understanding Grey Wolves

WOLF CUBS ARE DEPENDENT ON THEIR MOTHERS AND/OR THE PACK FOR AT LEAST A YEAR, ALTHOUGH THEY BEGIN TO JOIN THE HUNT AT 6 TO 7 MONTHS OLD. WOLVES ARE SOCIAL, PLAYFUL,  ANIMALS AND SEEM TO ENJOY THE COMPANY OF PACK MATES THROUGH OUT THEIR LIVES. IMAGE: ©DESIGNPICSSUB⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Note: Where statistical or other information sources conflict and when possible, we have deferred first to information provided by the International Wolf Organization and then to the San Diego Zoo Global Library: Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) Fact Sheet, 2014

Life Cycle 

North American and most European wolves follow similar patterns. It is these that we will describe here.  For specific info about some of the differences between subspecies see “More on Subspecies” at the end of the article.

THE ENTIRE PACK, BOTH MALE AND FEMALE WOLVES CARE FOR THE CURIOUS AND PLAYFUL CUBS.  IMAGE: ©OUTDOORSMAN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Gray wolves sometimes mate for life, hunting and living cooperatively in packs usually consisting of a breeding pair and various litters of offspring. Pack size ranges from two individuals to as many as 42 but usually average four to nine members.

Newborn wolf pups are dark or tawny colored (no white on pure wolf newborns) at birth and usually arrive to a protected den, but sometimes are born in just a pit on the ground after about a 63-day gestation. Survival to adulthood is highly variable.

Raising Pups is a Family Affair

The pups are blind and deaf until two weeks of age, and at three weeks of age, they start emerging from the den entrance (domestic dogs begin socialization at four weeks).  Both male and female pack members help in feedings by swallowing and regurgitating meat for the very young. 

Pups are weaned at 7-9 weeks, and by 6-7 months they begin to join the hunt; by 22 months some are sexually mature. At 1-3 years, both males and females usually leave the pack becoming “lone wolves.” 

Leaving "Home"

Although some will leave as early as nine months old, wolves that find themselves alone before three years of age do not have a long life expectancy. When a wolf does leave its natal pack, it may travel hundreds, even a thousand or more miles to find a mate and establish a territory of its own.  The life of a gray wolf is harsh. Although capable of living 8 to 13 years, most survive only three to five in the wild.  Please see “More on Subspecies” at the end of the article.

On the Menu

WOLVES IN CERTAIN AREAS ARE FISH EATERS, ESPECIALLY IN ALASKA WHERE SOME HAVE DEVELOPED A HEARTY APPETITE FOR FRESH SALMON.  IMAGE: © VANGOPHOTOS⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

 Wolves can exist for a week or more without eating. They can go for long stretches consuming only small mammals: rabbits, other rodents, or beavers, etc., although this is rare. Some wolves, for example in parts of Alaska, have also been documented catching and eating fish.

When hunting in a pack of two or more, gray wolves prefer larger ungulates such as deer, elk, moose, or small bison. (See below: What Are They Doing). The breeding pair eats first, choosing the heart, liver, and intestines. The male might easily consume 20 pounds or more meat at one time. The pack then shares the remaining meat.

What Are They Doing?

Wolf packs follow a strict hierarchy.  The packs are usually related individuals; the breeding pair or “parents” are in charge as in a human family.

WOLVES ARE SOCIAL ANIMALS. PLAY BEHAVIOR, BOTH ALONE AND WITH OTHER PACK MEMBERS HAS BEEN WIDELY DOCUMENTED. PLAY BETWEEN PACK MEMBERS HELPS DEFINE AUTHORITY. PHOTOGRAPHED IN NORTHERN MINNESOTA.  IMAGE: ©OUTDOORSMAN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Gray wolves are playful, “bowing,” dancing, and teasing each other like domestic dogs. There is much anecdotal evidence of gray wolves amusing themselves with sticks, snow, or small, loose objects and even abandoned domestic dog toys.  But hierarchy is evident in different forms of submissive behaviors.  Lower ranking pack members will lick a higher-ranking individual’s mouth, much like a pup does. Whimpering, tail tucking, and exposing bellies by rolling onto their backs are all submission behaviors.

The Hunt for Big Prey

Wolves can often be seen pouncing on something unseen in the grass (a mouse, ground squirrel or other small mammals) – then chewing enthusiastically. These so-called ruthless hunters do mostly hunt large ungulates, but they do so in packs of two or more. The wolves begin by openly observing the targeted herd. Even so, healthy large ungulates like moose or bison often stay put, holding their ground, unperturbed by the wolves, as these are rarely targeted persistently.

The hunt often begins with short, fast chases of an individual that end as quickly as they start. These sprints are to “test” the condition of a prey animal. If it is fast, an indication of good health, the wolf stops and chooses another animal. This testing will go on until the slowest or weakest is found and separated – and that becomes the wolf’s final target. In this way, the wolf assures the health of the ungulate herd.

Gray Wolf Communication

HOWLING IS A MEANS OF COMMUNICATION SOMETIMES USED TO LOCATE THE PACK IF A WOLF GETS "LOST"  IMAGE: ©TWILDLIFE⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Probably the most famous characteristic of the wolf is its incomparable howl. They use howls of different intonations and length to communicate with other pack members, announce territory, and reinforce social bonds.

Lost and Found

Occasionally a wolf may become separated from its pack. When that happens, they sometimes return to howl at sites formerly visited together, but howling also has its costs.

Howling alerts other competing packs to the howler’s location. How the other pack answers the howls is situational. A lone wolf or weak pack may choose to remain silent and undiscovered, while a strong pack may answer and even physically challenge the others.

As expected, very young pups, especially under four months, howl at anything, anytime. By six months they have become smarter, recognize their pack mates voices, and are more selective in their vocalizations.

Although researchers still have outstanding “howl” questions, one thing is clear: Wolves do not howl at the moon.  They may be more vocal when the moon is out, but only because they are more active when there is light.

Range and Habitat

The very adaptable gray wolf is found in habitats as varied as grassland, mountain, and temperate forest, including in the the eastern hemisphere's only temperate rainforest. And they survive where temperatures plunge to -22F (-30C) or rise to 100F (38C). 

ISREAL'S GOLAN HEIGHTS MAY BE A SURPRISING PLACE TO FIND WOLVES BUT THEY ARE WELL DOCUMENTED THERE ESPECIALLY IN AREAS AROUND MINE FIELDS (AND NO PEOPLE!)  IMAGE: ©LEONID SPEKTOR⎮ DREAMSTIME.COM

Although their traditional range has shrunk significantly, small populations of these resilient creatures remain on almost every continent in the world, and many are regaining ground.

Canada and Mexico as well as the U.S.’s northwest coast, its Southwest, and Great Lakes regions all have expanding populations. In Europe, gray wolves have returned to 28 countries.

Wolves can still be found in India and in Russian, although they are still avidly hunted; and even in very limited areas in Israel's Golan Heights , Iraq, Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Arctic wolf numbers are thought to be stable – for now. 

MEXICAN GRAY WOLVES ARE BEGINNING TO MAKE A COMEBACK THANKS TO CAPTIVE BREEDING AND RELEASE PROGRAMS.  IMAGE: ©RALPH BRANNAN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Threats

Diminishing habitat, hunting, and poaching are the biggest threats to wolf populations worldwide - but the myth is an even more insidious enemy.

Wolves are portrayed as evil in everything from fairy tales to pop culture. In the U.S., a 2015 drug company television commercial characterized a disease (whopping cough) as a wolf preying on children.

ThE idea of the “evil” wolf must stop if we are going to stabilize gray wolf populations and halt their rush to extinction. 


Where to See Gray Wolves

GRAY WOLVES CAN BE VERY AFFECTIONATE AND PLAYFUL AMONG PACK MEMBERS, SOME MATE FOR LIFE.  IMAGE: ©RADEMAKERFOTOGRAFIE⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

United States, Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park

Wolf Subspecies: Northwestern wolf (Canis lupus occidentalis)  
For information on this subspecies see below: More on Gray Wolf Subspecies 

The best place in the U.S. to see a wild wolf is also is a re-introduction success story. Almost 70 years after the last wild wolf was shot in the Rocky Mountains (1930), 31 wolves from Canada were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. By 2008 their numbers peaked with 171 individuals, then fell back naturally balancing the ecosystem.

THE WOLVES IN YELLOWSTONE HAVE MADE AN AMAZING RECOVERY AND ARE HELPING RESEARCHERS DEFINE JUST HOW IMPORTANT APEX PREDATORS ARE TO AN ECOSYSTEM. LOOK FOR THEM IN THE LAMAR VALLEY. ©SILVERPINERANCH⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

With a little planning, your chances of seeing wolves in Yellowstone are very good. Gray wolves move around a lot. Packs ebb and flow. The Lamar Valley is a good consistent viewing place. If you can stand the cold, winter, is the time to see wolves in Yellowstone. There is less vegetation to hide them, they stand out against the snow, and ungulates are more likely to come off the higher elevations and into the valley looking for forage. Don’t forget to listen for their nighttime howls floating across the valleys – it is an extraordinary sound.  Ask rangers for advice on best hours and locations.

YELLOWSTONE WAS FAMOUS FOR ITS BISON LONG BEFORE THE WOLVES WERE REINTRODUCED. WINTER IS A GREAT TIME TO VEIW BOTH SPECIES.  IMAGE: ©BIRDIEGAL717⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

When: September through June or December through March

In the hottest months, wolves follow elk up to the highest (and coolest) peaks. Winter viewing is best December through March. The park offers wolf discovery packages with a naturalist in spring and winter.

Accommodation: Lodges and campsites are available both inside and outside the park. Call well in advance; rooms are booked early for in-season visits.

Wildlife Bonus:  Elk, moose, grizzly bear, bison, river otters, eagles, and more.

Sweden: Bergslagen Forest  

Wolf Subspecies: Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus)
For information on this subspecies see below: More on Gray Wolf Subspecies 

The Swedes, proud of their healthy and pristine wild places, are at the forefront of responsible tourism.

In 1970 the gray wolf was extinct in Sweden; a decade later they began to reappear. This time the Swedes would not let them go! With changed (human) attitudes and concerted efforts (See “Encouraging News” above), wildlife has been making a comeback in Sweden. Today, Swedish wolf numbers have risen to over 500 individuals. In the Bergslagan Forest wolves are especially plentiful.

SWEDEN IS ONE OF THE EUROPEAN COUNTRIES BENEFITING ECONOMICALLY FROM A RISE IN WILDLIFE TOURISM. MANY TOUR COMPANIES NOW OFFER WOLF OR MOOSE SAFARIS IN BOTH WINTER AND SUMMER SEASONS. IMAGE: ©KJETIL KOLBJORNSRUD⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

In Sweden you’ll enjoy local guides, accommodation, and cuisine with little excess or resource waste to be found. Cozy eco-huts provide safe opportunities to overnight in the forest, although the nighttime wildlife photo ops (through the hut windows) may make sleep difficult. Never mind, you can rest when you get home.

BOTH WOLF AND MOOSE SAFARIS ARE GAINING POPULARITY IN SWEDEN, A LEADER IN RESPONSIBLE WILDLIFE TOURISM.  IMAGE: ©NILSZ⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

When: June through September

Accommodation: Local lodges, forest huts, and sometimes home stays. Sweden has multiple “wolf safari” providers. One, Wild Sweden, specializes in wildlife packages that include opportunities for discussion with experts and locals, tracking and checking camera traps, etc. can all be part of the experience. 

Wildlife Bonus:  Elk, moose, fox, beaver, and numerous bird species including Tengmalm’s and Eurasian Pygmy Owls. 

The Road Less Traveled

United States, Alaska: Prince of Wales Island and Tongass National Forest

ARIAL VIEW OF PRINCE OF WALES ISLAND, PART OF THE ALEXANDER ARCHIPELAGO, A MOSAIC OF ISLANDS THAT FORMS ALASKA'S INSIDE PASSAGE AND HOME TO THE ALEXANDER ARCHIPELAGO WOLF. IMAGE: ©IZANBAR⎮DREAMSTIME.COM  

Wolf Subspecies: Alexander Archipelago wolf (Canis lupus ligoni)
For information on this subspecies see below: More on Gray Wolf Subspecies 

Prince of Wales Island is the the U.S's fourth largest island, only Hawaii's big island, Alaska's Kodiak Island, and Puerto Rico are bigger. It is part of the Alexander Archipelago, a mosaic of about 1,100 islands and submerged mountains that together help form the Inside Passage waterway, the “Gateway to Alaska.”

THE UNIQUE ECOLOGY OF THE OLD GROWTH, TEMPERATE RAINFOREST, TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, CREATES A HABITAT NOT FOUND ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE. IMAGE: ©LINDA BAIR⎮DREAMSTIME.COM 

North America's Old Growth Rainforest:  This destination is special for another reason too.  Altogether the islands of the Alexander Archipelago plus a sliver of the mainland coastal area make up Tongass National Forest. Tongass is the site of one of only five old-growth forests left on the planet; and at 17 million acres it is also the world's largest temperate rainforest and America’s largest national forest.  

Also known as the island wolf, the status of the Alexander Archipelago wolf is questionable. As per experts from the International Wolf Center, this year, 2016, the Alexander Archipelago wolves number somewhere between 850 - 2,700 individuals. However, on Prince of Wales Island itself Scientific American reported that the wolves are in trouble. In 2013 the population was reported to be 221, in 2014 the number dropped to 89 and there are perhaps only 60 wolves remaining as of 2015. Although controlled hunting is allowed at certain times it is estimated that least 50% of the wolves were killed illegally.

When: May through September has the best weather. July and August are prime salmon spawning months, and this is the best time to see black bears fishing for them. It will also be high sports fishing tourism season so if you are planning a visit for that time, book lodges and campsites in advance. Beware, hunting is allowed for different animals at different times, wolf hunting “season” is Dec. 1 – March 31.

Accommodation: The communities on Prince of Wales Island are small, however, there are more than enough accommodations to choose from. Book early to make sure that you get the place that will be most comfortable for you and your family.

Most tourists who arrive here come for the sports fishing. Most accommodations do not rate high on the luxury meter, but the welcome and warmth score is off the chart! Bring the family. Many lodges also have kayaks or canoes or land vehicles to rent.  There are also two Forestry Service campgrounds and numerous private campgrounds, some attached to lodges on Prince of Wales Island.  

See the Prince of Wales Chamber of Commerce website for more lodging ideas.

Wildlife Bonus:  Black bear (no brown or grizzly on POW), lynx, Sitka black-tailed deer, moose, bats (Keen’s myotis and little brown), mink, ermine and American martin.  

Birdwatching Bonus: Bald eagles, golden eagles, osprey, goshawks, and a variety of ducks are present year-round.  Sandhill cranes and numerous songbirds migrate through every spring.

Marine Life Bonus: Dall and harbor porpoises, humpbacked and minke whales, orcas, and wild salmon, river otters, harbor seals, and Steller sea lions.   

More on Where to See Wolves in the Wild

8 Magic Places to See Wolves. A Wolf Lover's Bucket List 


Smart viewing

NO MATTER HOW MUCH A WOLF RESEMBLES THAT FRIEND SITTING AT YOUR FEET, REMEMBER THEY ARE WILD ANIMALS. PROTECT THEM AND YOURSELF BY FOLLOWING WILDLIFE WATCHING BEST PRACTICES: NO FEEDING, NO ENTICING, AND KEEP YOUR DISTANCE.©JEFFERY MCGRAW⎮DREAMSTIME.COM   IMAGE: ©GLENNAGAL⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Preparing for Your Wildlife Adventure

Wolves are shy. They hunt at night and the early morning. If you want to see a wolf be up early, be quiet, and be patient.  Dress appropriately for the time of year and location; you may be waiting awhile – but the bonus is that wolf habitat hosts lots of other wildlife to enjoy, too. Do not use animal scents to attract wolves. You will smell like prey and elicit the normal and natural response from the wolf.

Be a Responsible Wildlife Tourist

No matter how much a wild wolf resembles the friend sleeping at the foot of your bed, it is not. Wild animals – all wild animals – are most dangerous either when they are sick, threatened, or habituated to humans.
Respect the animal’s space.
Do Not feed or entice. Do not invite aggression by trying to feed or entice a wild wolf (or any wild animal) to get closer to you.
Dispose of all trash properly.  Wolves are scavengers; wolves and other wild animals habituated to humans through food access become aggressive and are dangerous to you and themselves. They will eventually be put down.
No dogs in wolf country. Do not bring your domestic dog into wolf territory. Your pets do not belong in wolf habitat; they will naturally be aggressive and threatening to the wild wolf. 


More on Grey Wolf Subspecies Around the World

North America

In North America four subspecies are widely accepted by experts, the Arctic, the Northwestern, the great plains, and the Mexican gray wolf. New research points to a fifth, the Eastern gray wolf, Canis lupus lycaon as being a separate species scientifically known as Canis lycaon. There is a sixth included below; the Alexander Archipelago wolf, historically listed as a distinct subspecies, new finding point to it as relative of the great plains wolf. These wolves have developed unusual, specific characteristics based on their habitat and are well worth seeking out for that reason.   

Arctic wolf: Canis lupus arctos

THE SMALLER EARS AND NOSES OF ARCTIC WOLVES HELP THEM KEEP WARM IN SUB-ZERO TEMPERATURES, THE OUTSIDE LAYER OF THEIR THICK COAT IS WATERPROOF. ARCTIC WOLVES HAVE BEEN KNOWN TO USE THE SAME DEN SITES GENERATION AFTER GENERATION, POSSIBLY OVER CENTURIES. IMAGE: ©ERICLEFRANCAIS⎮DEAMSTIME.COM

Sometimes Called: polar wolf, white wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed. 
Identifying Characteristics: One of the two largest wolf subspecies in North America, they range from 70 to 135 pounds (32 – 61 kg) and can be up to 6 feet (1.8 m) nose to tail. The coat is white but may also have black, yellow or gray details. It consists of two thick layers, the waterproof outer fur is coarser, the inner short and soft. As the temperature drops, the layers become denser.  The comparably smaller nose and ears of the Arctic wolf help regulate temperature. Padded paws add to maneuverability on ice and snow.
Present Range: Find them above the tree line in the arctic regions of North America and the extreme northern regions of Greenland.  Arctic wolves feed on enormous musk ox as well as the arctic hare, lemmings, seals, and birds.
Possible Viewing Destinations:  Please see, “8 Magic Places to See Wolves” for more information.

Northwestern wolf: Canis lupus occidentalis

THE NORTHWEST WOLF, SOMETIMES CALLED THE MACKENZIE VALLEY, THE CANADIAN TIMBER, OR THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN WOLF WAS REINTRODUCED FROM ITS MORE NORTHERN RANGE INTO YELLOWSTONE. IMAGE: COURTESY OF  KAR PHOTOGRAPHY READ THEIR INTERVIEW & SEE MORE WILDLIFE IMAGES HERE

Sometimes called: Mackenzie Valley wolf, Canadian timber wolf, rocky mountain wolf. The Northwestern is the subspecies introduced back into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996.
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: One the two largest wolf subspecies in North America, they range from 70 – 120 pounds (32 – 54+ kg), 32-36 inches (81-92 cm) at the shoulder and up to 7 feet (2+ meters) from the tip of nose to tail. These wolves have a muscular neck and a large skull. They sprint up to 45 mph (72 kph) on long, muscular legs.
Present Range: Western Canada, Alaska, Idaho, North-west Montana, and Wyoming. They are built to bring down large prey: buffalo, elk, and moose, but also eat hare, beaver, ground squirrel, and even salmon.
Possible Viewing Destinations: United States, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park see above for more information.

Great Plains wolf: Canis lupus nubilus

PACK LEADERS EAT FIRST, USUALLY CHOOSING THE HEART OR LIVER. WOLVES, LIKE THIS ONE IN MINNESOTA, PREY ON SMALLER, WEAKER ANIMALS. NOTE THE DEERS SMALL BODY AND ANTLER SIZE.   IMAGE: ©OUTDOORSMAN⎮DREAMSTIMES.COM

Sometimes called: Buffalo wolf, dusky wolf, or timber wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: Adults range from 60 to 110 pounds (27- 50 kg) and 4.5 to 6.5 feet (1.5 - 2 meters) nose to tail. Their fur is a blend of grays, reds, buff colors, and black with some white details.
Present Range: At one time the most ubiquitous and widest ranging subspecies, by 1930 they were almost eradicated from the U.S. Today, thanks to conservation efforts, they remain in the Great Lakes region of Minnesota (2,423), Wisconsin (880), Northern Michigan (638), and Ontario. These individuals are thought to be the last bastion of Canis lupus nubilus. Their preferred diet is white-tailed deer, moose, hare, beaver, other small rodents, and sometimes birds.
Possible Viewing Destinations: United States, Wisconsin.
Most people in the region are proud of their wolves’ recovery. We suggest you contact the Timber Wolf Information Network, TWIN, in Wisconsin, for one of their award-winning winter wolf education workshops. TWIN’s conservation and wildlife education programs are open to everyone, including those with hunting licenses. The conservation philosophy here seems to be that education is more effective than a soapbox; TWIN staffers are respectful of all, including less-than wolf hugging opinions. We agree and strongly suggest following their lead.
Wildlife Bonus: Deer, beaver, snowshoe hare, coyote, and numerous birds.

Mexican gray wolf: Canis lupus baileyi

THE MEXICAN GRAY WOLF IS MAKING A COMEBACK, BUT IS NOT OUT OF THE PROVERBIAL WOODS YET. MUCH ACTIVE OPPOSITION TO THEIR REINTRODUCTION BY RANCHERS, ESPECIALLY THOSE USING FEDERAL LANDS TO GRAZE LIVESTOCK, REMAINS STRONG. RESPONSIBLE WILDLIFE TOURISM IN NEW MEXICO AND ARIZONA MAY HELP.  IMAGE: ©GNAGEL⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Sometimes called: El Lobo
IUNC: Not assessed. In 2010 there were only 50 wild Mexican gray wolves. Thanks to protection plus a captive breeding and release program, according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, at the end of 2014 there were at least 110 Mexican Grey wolves in the wild, but thought to be down to 97 by the end of 2015. In spite of continuing local protest, continued wolf releases are scheduled for 2016.
Identifying Characteristics: The Mexican gray wolf is the smallest and scarcest of North America’s gray wolf subspecies. Adults weigh 50 to 85 pounds (22 - 39 kg), about the same size as a German Shepherd, 4.5 – 5.5 feet (1.5 meters) nose to tail. Their coats are a mix of gray, rust, black, and buff.
Present Range: Grass and scrublands and mountain forests of Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. Their preferred prey includes white-tailed and mule deer, and small mammals including javelina, rabbit, ground squirrel, and mice.
Possible Viewing Destinations: Apache National Forest, Arizona.  See: “8 Magic Places to See Wolves” for more information.

Alexander Archipelago Wolf: Canis lupis ligoni

ALEXANDER ARCHIPELAGO WOLF IS A SWIMMER AND FISH EATER, UP TO 20% OF THEIR DIET IS SALMON. DECLARED A SUBSPECIES IN 1937, THEIR STATUS IS UNDER SCRUTINY AS NEW MITOCHRONDIAL DNA EVIDENCE POINTS TO A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP TO CANIS LUPUS NUBILUS, THE GREAT PLAINS WOLF. IMAGE: ©JORN VANGOIDTSENHOVEN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Debate and new research continues in an effort to define or redefine the official subspecies status of other wolf populations. In 1937 the Alexander Archipelago wolf was declared a gray wolf subspecies, Canis lupus ligoni. Since that time, mitochondrial DNA evidence points to this population being closer to the Great Plains wolf. There is no denying, however, that it has developed certain techniques to survive in its environment that are unique to the species. 

Sometimes called: Island wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: The Alexander Archipelago wolf is small, 30-50 pounds ( 14-23 kg). Their coat can range from pure black to black and white, grey, and even to a cinnamon color. Their diet consists mainly of Sitka black tailed deer, small mammals such as beaver, and salmon. They are comfortable in the water, swimming from island to island in the Alexander Archipelago and fishing for salmon which makes up about 20% of their diet. Breeding wolves and young individuals depend even more heavily on salmon. 
Present Range: The islands of the Alexander Archipelago off Alaska's southern most coast including Prince of Wales Island. These wolves inhabit the Tongass National Forest, an old-growth forest and the only temperate rainforest in the Western Hemisphere. 
Possible Viewing Destinations:  Tongass National Forest, Prince of Wales Island. 
Wildlife Bonus: Sitka black tailed deer, black bear, mink, and bald eagle. 
Marine Life Bonus: Humpback and minke whale, orca, porpoise, sea lion, and seal 

Europe & Asia

Eurasian wolf: Canis lupus lupus

THE CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS OF ROMANIA ARE A GOOD PLACE TO LOOK FOR WILD EURASIAN WOLVES. IMAGE: ©Silviu Matae⎮dreamstime.com 

Sometimes called: Common wolf or Middle Russian forest wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: 70-125 pounds (32 – 55 kg) although there are records of much larger individuals. They have a short coarse coat, generally gray to tawny in color, and a white throat.
Present Range: Beneficiaries of the 1992 European Union Habitat Directive, they are returning to, and inspiring wildlife tourism industries in some countries, including Poland, Romania, Croatia, and Slovakia.  They prefer elk, red and roe deer, and boar but if not available they will eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and fruit. In places where the habitat has not come into balance, livestock is prey.
Possible Viewing Destinations: The Carpathian Mountains, especially Romania.
The location of the last virgin forests in Europe, Romania is also home to the continents’ largest populations of wolves, bear, and lynx. The people of the village of Zarnesti, at the base of Piatra Craiului National Park, have turned away from a historical predilection for large predator eradication towards an economy of eco-tourism.  The Carpathian Mountains is a great place to hike with opportunities for all levels. Unfortunately, there is still illegal logging here. Every responsible wildlife tourist that visits underscores the economic benefit of the untouched forest and the wildlife it supports.
Wildlife Bonus: Chamois, capercaillie, lynx, butterflies, birds, and small mammals; you may even spot a brown bear.

Tundra wolf: Canis lupus albus

FINLAND'S WONDERFUL OPEN-DOOR POLICY ON THEIR NATURAL LANDS ENCOURAGES PEOPLE TO GO OUT AND ENJOY THEM - THE FINNISH ARE NOT, HOWEVER, WOLF ENTHUSIASTS. RESPONSIBLE WILDLIFE TOURISM AND ITS ECONOMIC BENEFITS MAY HELP. THIS IMAGE OF A WILD WOLF WAS TAKEN IN NORTHERN FINLAND IMAGE: ©HANNU KANERVA⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Sometimes called: Eurasian Arctic wolf, Turukhan wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: One of the largest subspecies in Eurasia, they range from 100 to 110 pounds (45 - 50 kg) with anecdotal reports of individuals weighing in at over 200 pounds (90 kg). Tundra wolves range from white to silver to gray with some rust coloring.
Present range: They live in northern Europe and Asia, but the boreal sub-Arctic regions of Canada and Russia (northern Siberia) are where they are most readily found. Tundra wolves are dependent on caribou and muskoxen. In Canada, recent herd number fluctuations have negatively influenced tundra wolf populations.  Hunting for wolves is an active pastime in both Russia and Canada.
Possible Viewing Destinations: Finland, on the country's eastern border lands.
Norway has 38 national parks with diverse and breathtaking landscapes. Do your research; some parks are family appropriate, others recommended for experienced and well-equipped hikers only. Stay on the eastern coast where the wolves are most numerous. There are both self-drive and guided wildlife safaris opportunities available. Wolves are feared and hunted (legally and illegally) in Finland. Wolf viewing tourism is one way to prove that wolves can be more economically beneficial to local populations alive than dead.
Wildlife Bonus. Brown bear, wolverine, lynx, elk, and birds including capercaillie, owls, and others.

Russian wolf: Canis lupus communis

IN RUSSIA WOLVES, LIKE THIS ONE PHOTOGRAPHED IN YAROSLAVL, ARE GREATLY FEARED AND AVIDLY HUNTED. IMAGE: ©SALAZKIN VLADIMIR⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Sometimes called: Common wolf, tundra wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: One of the larger gray wolf subspecies, they are one of five historically found in Russia and the former Soviet Union states.  Their reputation for aggressive behavior is the traditional justification for enthusiastic hunting.
Present Range: North Central Asia
Possible Viewing Destinations: We are not aware of any safe destinations for viewing Russian wolves at this writing.

Italian wolf: Canis lupus italicus

WILD APENNINE OR ITALIAN WOLVES NEAR ABRUZZO, ITALY. LAKE BARREA IS IN THE BACKGROUND. IMAGE: ©theripper⎮dreamstime.com

Sometimes called: Apennine wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: The Italian wolf is medium sized, with adult males weighing 53 – 88 pounds (24 – 40 kg). Females are about 10% lighter. The body length of the Italian wolf is usually 39 – 55 inches (100 – 140 cm). They are commonly gray with brown and sometimes some black, though specimens of mostly black have been spotted in the Mugello region and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines.
Present Range: The Apennine Mountains of Italy and into Switzerland. They are mostly nocturnal hunters with a preference for medium-sized ungulates such as Chamois, Roe Deer, Red Deer and also wild boar and other small mammals such as hares and rabbits.
Possible Viewing Destinations: Italy’s wilderness, Majella National Park (Parco Nazionale Della Majella) offers special guided walks for possible viewing, although they warn that the animals are shy and elusive.
Wildlife Bonus: Brown bear, roe deer, Abruzzi chamois, otters, and numerous other species and birds like honey buzzards, snow finch, and Alpine accentor.  

Indian or Desert wolf: Canis lupus pallipes

INDIAN WOLF, ALTHOUGH PROTECTED, ARE WIDELY PERSECUTED (HUNTED, POISONED) AND CAN REASONABLY BE FOUND ONLY IN GHATIGAON WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, MAHYDA PRADESHIMAGE: ©BAYAEV71⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

INDIAN WOLVES ARE CONSIDERED VERMIN IN MANY VILLAGES, AN UNFORTUNATE REPUTATION FOR ATTACKING LIVE STOCK AND CHILDREN HAS MADE CONSERVATION DIFFICULT  IMAGE: ©SHARIQKHAN⎮DREAMSTIME.COM 

Sometimes called: Desert wolf, Iranian wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: This wolf’s small size, 40 – 60 pounds (18 - 26 kg) and light reddish to brown coloring sometimes causes it to be mistaken for a red fox.  Their coat is short and not as thick as their northern cousins; they are less vocal too.

Indian wolves usually hunt at night, for both large and small prey including rodents, rabbits, and raccoons and sometimes livestock. Unfortunately, they also have a reputation for attacking small children, especially in areas of the very low economic level, low prey levels, and heavily guarded livestock. They are hunted as vermin and becoming very rare. 
Present Range: The Middle East and west through the Indian sub-continent.
Possible Viewing Destinations: India, Ghatigaon Wildlife Sanctuary, Gwalior District, Mahyda Pradesh
Wildlife Bonus: The last sanctuary of the Great Indian Bustard, also wild boar, blue bull, fox, hyena, chital or cheetah deer, and monkeys. 

 

Africa & Middle East:

Arabian wolf: Canis lupus arabs

Sometimes called: Middle Eastern wolf, desert wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: This is one of the smallest subspecies, only 25 inches (65 cm) at the shoulder and 30 - 45 pounds (14 – 20 kg) Their thin, short, coarse coats are a mix of light brown, grey-yellow with buff or white on the stomach. Heat adaptations include longer hair on their backs and comparatively large ears. Unlike other subspecies, the two middle toes of each paw are fused. These wolves may also have brown (instead of yellow) eyes. If this turns out to be a sign of wolf/feral dog interbreeding, it is a red flag for their survival.
Present Range: Once common on the Arabian Peninsula, they are now restricted to isolated regions of Southern Israel, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and possibly Lebanon and parts of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.  They live in semi-arid gravel plains and the edges of the desert, digging burrows to escape the heat, but they cannot go without water.  Wolves are protected in Oman only; however, this law is rarely enforced.
Possible Viewing Destinations: Israel, Golan Heights
One of the ironies of war is that sometimes it creates an unexpected windfall for wildlife; such is the situation in the minefields on the Syria/Israel border. The wolves, protected but still avidly hunted and poached all over Israel, have found a haven here.  They can sometimes be seen from outside the barbed wire fencing. They may also be in the Herman Stream National Reserve. Contact a local guide.
Wildlife Bonus: Wild boar, Eurasian badger, mountain gazelles, golden jackal, Indian crested porcupine, caracal, Egyptian mongoose, etc. plus eagles and many bird species.

Caspian Sea wolf: Canis lupus cubanensis

Sometimes called: Caucasian wolf or steppe wolf (sometimes listed as C. l. campestris, C. l. desertorum, or C. l. bactrianus)
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: These wolves are medium-sized, averaging 85 - 105 pounds (40 - 48 kg); their short, coarse fur is a mix of light gray, rust, and brown with black.
Present Range: The only remaining population known to exist is in the Caucus region of southwest Russia, bordering the Caspian Sea. There is little large game left in their range, they hunt small mammals and unfortunately, the herds of nomadic people.
Possible Viewing Destinations: Unknown. If you have information about viewing locations for wild Caspian Sea wolf, please contact us.

These next two subspecies are widely accepted however not listed in the San Diego Global Library

Tibetan wolf: Canis lupus chanco

IN THEIR HIGH ALTITUDE HOME IN THE HIMALAYAS, SNOW LEOPARD CONSERVATION EFFORTS HAVE ALSO BENEFITED THE WOLVES. IMAGE: ©LUKAS BLAZEK⎮DREAMSTIME.COM

Although thought to be a gray wolf subspecies, C.l.p. may be a separate species called Himalayan or Mongolian Wolf (Canis Himalayensis) as per research by the Wildlife Institute of India.

Sometimes called: Wooly wolf or Mongolian wolf
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: Smaller than the Eurasian wolf, with shorter legs, and a longer nose and slender skull, Tibetian wolves average about 100 pounds (45 kg). These wolves have two unique features: 1) their jaw turns back as with a domestic dog, other gray wolf subspecies do not have this feature, and 2) their adaptation to high altitude / low oxygen environments is studied in China and elsewhere. They also have a yellower tinged fur and white patches under their chins.
Present Range: Native to central Asia, Turkistan, Tibet, Mongolia, northern China, and Quinhai-Tibet Plateau (Himalayas). Tibetan wolves live in twos or threes; they eat hare, marmot, and sometimes goats or sheep and have attacked humans who hunt them enthusiastically. Ironically, another endangered species with which it shares habitat, the snow leopard, is bringing a spotlight to their plight.
Possible Viewing Destinations:  Please see “8 Magic Places to See Wolves.”

Iberian wolf: Canis lupus signatus

SIERRA DEL LA CULEBRA NEAR ZAMORA, SPAIN  IS ONE OF THE BEST PLACES TO SEE WILD IBERIAN WOLVES. WOLF WATCHING TOURS IN SPAIN ARE BECOMING VERY POPULAR, YOU MAY ALSO SEE WILD BOAR, ROE DEER, RED DEER, wild cat, GOLDEN EAGLES AND MORE. IMAGE: ©RAMON CARRETERO⎮ DREAMSTIME.COM

ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF WILDLIFE TOURISM IS HELPING IBERIAN WOLVES MAKE A COME BACK AFTER ALMOST BEING COMPLETELY WIPED OUT. IMAGE: ©RAMON CARRETERO⎮DREAMSTIME.COM 

Sometimes called: No other names to our knowledge.
IUCN: Not individually assessed.
Identifying Characteristics: Small, weighing about 65 – 80 pounds (30 – 35 kg) and 5 feet (1.5m) tip to tail, with light brown to faun-color and gray with rust marking behind the ears. It has four toes on its hind feet and five toes on the front, although only four reach the ground. They get their Latin name, signatus, from the black markings running down his legs. Their tails are black tipped. 
Present Range: Almost wiped out by poison, hunting, and trapping, they are now “protected” and recovering, although both legal and illegal hunting continues throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Their preferred diet is red or roe deer and wild boar, but will also hunt feral dogs, fox, rabbit, and smaller mammals.
Possible Viewing Destinations: Sierra del la Culebra, near Zamora, Spain. Several watchpoints are set up to view specific packs. The region welcomes wildlife tourism for both viewing and hunting.
Wildlife Bonus: wildcats, badgers, roe deer, and pine martin.  


Show and Tell

We want to hear about your gray wolf adventures and so do other wildlife lovers!
Send us your stories and photos and we will publish them as possible.  

MORE!

Stories & Information

Destination: Prince of Wales Island, Alaska 

8 Magic Places to See Wolves: A Wolf Lover's Bucket List
Wildlife Photographers Kate and Adam Rice: Catching the Animal's Spirit  

Special Thanks

The International Wolf Center
Ely, Minnesota
Special thanks to L. David Mech  

KAR PHOTOGRAPHY

Ian A. Johnson:
 Life, Wildlife and Wild-Life

Wolf Conservation Center 
South Salem, New York
Special thanks to Maggie Howell

And to
Elise Boeger,
Explorers Club member and avid conservationist for her help and inspiration.

WILD WOLVES ARE ELUSIVE AND CAMERA SHY, BUT DO NOT LET THAT STOP YOU FROM A WOLF TREKKING ADVENTURE. THEY LIVE IN SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL NATURAL PLACES ON THE PLANET. AND YOUR WOLF WATCHING EXPERIENCE CAN HELP SAVE THEIR LIVES. IMAGE: OUTDOORSMANDREAMSTIME.COM