Are wolves a threat to Colorado hikers?

Photo Credit: Antagain (iStock).

A pack of wolves is believed to be hunting in northwest Colorado and it has some hikers wondering if they should be worried about encountering this deadly apex predator on the trail. Below, I’ve answered a few common questions related to wolves and wolf safety in areas where this animal is present.

RELATED: The wolf reintroduction debate is a hot topic in Colorado’s outdoor recreation community and beyond. Click here for the key arguments of each side and here to learn more about the history of the wolf in Colorado.

How deadly are wolves?

Wolves can vary greatly by species, but some North American varieties can outweigh humans. Take the Mackenzie Valley Wolf, found in Alaska and Western Canada, which can reach 175 pounds and 5 to 7 feet of length. This wolf is also said to be present in Yellowstone National Park, a hop, skip, and a jump away from Colorado.

In addition to a massive size and muscular build, wolves can have canine teeth that reach an inch long, capable of biting down with more than 1,200 pounds of pressure. They’re also capable of running at more than 30 miles per hour.

There’s no doubt about it, wolves are apex predators built to survive and built to prey.

How common are wolf attacks?

While the gory Red Riding Hood fairytale might have you thinking otherwise, wolf attacks on humans are quite rare – especially in the United States. In fact, there have only been two verified deaths attributed to wolves in North America in recent decades – one in northern Saskatchewan in 2005 and another in rural Alaska in 2010. According to a 2002 report, no verified wolf-caused deaths had occurred in North America since 1900 prior to those two. That being said, there are a number of unverified fatal wolf attacks said to have occurred prior to that date, with a majority of these alleged attacks happening before the widespread eradication of the wolf from the contiguous United States during the early 1900s.

Other parts of the world do have issues related to wolf attacks, especially in primitive communities. One historical record shows that more than 7,000 people were killed by wolves in France between 1362 and 1918. In Hazaribagh, a city in northeastern India, 115 children were reportedly killed by wolves between 1910 and 1915, with another 122 killed in the same area between 1980 and 1986.

While wolf attacks are uncommon and often sensationalized in media, wolves can and do attack humans with serious consequences from time to time. Find a list here of recent alleged wolf attacks worldwide, more than 20 of which occurred in 2019 and one of which involved at least four wolves injuring 15 people over the course of a week.

Are wolves scared of humans?

Wolves tend to be afraid of humans, especially those in North America. Often roaming large stretches of wilderness in an ideal scenario, many wolves likely live their life without encountering a hominid.

That being said, wolves, like many wild animals, can become accustom to human interaction while remaining unpredictable. This has been a cause for concern to some against the idea of reintroducing wolves to Colorado, driven by the fear that wolves – like many wild animals in the state – will eventually lose their fear of civilization.

An example of this happening can be found in the most recent North American death by wolf. Prior to the 2005 death of Kenton Carnegie, 22, wolves in the same area were growing comfortable around their human neighbors. Though wolves are rarely seen in the wild, wolves in this area of Northern Saskatchewan were spotted following vehicles and exploring human development, even stalking locals.

Generally wolves are scared of humans, but that isn’t always the case.

How many wolves are here?

A wolf pack was spotted in Colorado for the first time in recent decades in January of 2020. Prior to that, the occasional wolf would be found every few years, but no sustainable population was said to be present. If wolves have started to call Colorado a permanent home, their numbers are likely very small and restricted to remote, rugged places where humans are rarely seen.

What if a wolf attacks?

During an encounter with a wolf, it’s important to remain calm. Keep in mind that wolves are generally scared of humans. If you’re encountering a wolf, it’s probably by accident on behalf of both parties.

Here are a few quick guidelines, according to Western Wildlife Outreach.

Stay calm and don’t run. Try to make yourself look larger by standing tall and broadening shoulders. Slowly back away while maintaining eye contact.

Should Coloradan hiker be scared of wolves?

At the moment, Coloradan hikers should not live in fear of a wolf attack. A wolf pack has been spotted in a single, remote area of the state. If these wolves stick around, they’ll likely act like most wolves do – avoiding humans entirely.

That being said, many predators in Colorado, like the mountain lion and the black bear, are starting to become more comfortable with civilization, dining on garbage and house pets. If wolves do the same, it could cause problems. While this isn’t happening at a notable rate with wolves in American states of which they already inhabit, Colorado doesn’t necessarily offer the same unpopulated vastness of habitats like Idaho, Alaska, and Wyoming.

Do your part to keep wolves and other wildlife away from civilization by keeping trash secure and where it belongs. If you happen to sight a wolf in Colorado, the Colorado Parks and Recreation Department wants you to report it here.

The wolf reintroduction debate is a hot topic in Colorado’s outdoor recreation community and beyond. Click here for the key arguments of each side and here to learn more about the history of the wolf in Colorado.

In conclusion, wolf attacks are rare and it’s very unlikely I’ll ever have to report on one happening in Colorado, even if the wolf population rapidly grows in the near future. That being said, it’s important to realize that wolves are powerful predators that should be taken very seriously.

If you want a chance to see a wolf up-close and learn more about this magnificent creature, here are a few wolf rescues around the state of Colorado that might give you the chance.

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