Wolf Hysteria and Moral Panic

Wolf Paranoia: A typical wolf about to take your children and eat your job

I was doing research into the origins of wolf persecution and came across an excellent entry by Rational Wiki on the subject of wolf hysteria.  It outlines the major tenets of wolf persecution, describing how common sense and measured thinking are thrown out the window by those who seek to demonize wolves and blame them for all the world’s ills.

I’m presenting the Rational Wiki entry just as its written, it explains the roots of wolf  hysteria and how it’s used to persecute and scapegoat the wolf.


From RationalWiki.com

Wolf hysteria

(also known as wolf persecution, or rarely, lupophobia) is the widespread public hatred of wolves, incorporating both their enduring role as folk devils, and societal attitudes favouring policies of active persecution of wolves, and opposition and resistance to policies aiming to protect existing wild populations, or reintroduce the species into former ranges where it has become extinct relatively recently. The phenomenon shares much in common with moral panics, including the use of scaremongering, unverifiable anecdotes, demonisation, exaggeration, moral highroading etc., to the extent the phenomenon could be considered a moral panic in and of itself, though it is not commonly referred to as such.

Hot-button issues

Fierce, and often aggressively negative perceptions of wolves have a long history in western (and many other) cultures. However, the main issues triggering a renewed outpouring of hysteria often stems from any proposal (real or simply made up) from a few major “hot button” issues:

Predation of livestock

Attempts to introduce/extend protections for wolves

Attempts to re-introduce wolves to areas where they had become locally extinct


Manning Moral Barricades

The most shrill cries attesting to the apparently limitless evils of the wolf arise, unsurprisingly, from the livestock industry. It claims that predation of livestock by wolves is rampant, and that seeing the unending bloodbath caused by these “specialists in carnage” causes those who raise animals to slaughter en-masse for meat, to be emotionally distraught by, well, the killing of animals for meat.

In the USA an equally unsurprising alliance with hunting and game interest, numerous front organisations and astroturf operations has been established, including the Abundant Wildlife Society of North America (AWSNA) and the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA)[1]. They have been aided and abetted by the wider so-called “conservative conservationist” movement (itself usually astroturf or greenwashing for forestry, hunting and agriculture interests), such as Conservation Force, but perhaps best illustrated by Mike Dubrasich and his Western Institute for Study of the Environment (WISE) / SOSForests,who couches his arguments in terms of concern for the environment, though sometimes veers into extreme right-wing conspiracy theories about the federal government, in alliance with “eco-facists” deliberately introducing wolves (aka “blood-thirsty predators”)[2] to the mid-west (along with forest fires and various other things).

The arguments

Wolves cause significant losses to livestock producers

A common refrain is that attacks (predation) on livestock by wolves is a significant, or even one of the main, losses incurred by livestock producers.

In the USA emphasis is placed primarily on the financial side, and also often emphasises that the inclusion of the wolf within the Endangered Species Act violates “property rights” and “constitutional freedoms”. The “emotional trauma” suffered by livestock producers as a result of predation is also frequently mentioned.

“It may destroy our livelihood and our major lifestyle is in jeopardy.”

“Judging from their rapidly expanding populations across the West, it is obvious that wolf populations are healthy. Our concern is whether we’ll be able to say the same thing about the West’s ranchers in years to come.[4]”

Firstly, though these organisations are ready to give the numbers of livestock affected by predation, these are never given as percentages, or even stated in relation to total herd numbers. In most states the losses of livestock due to wolf predation was <1%. In the state of Wyoming, which lies entirely within the Yellowstone re-introduction area the number varied depending on year between 0.9% and 2% in the period 2000-2005, averaging under 1% over the period. This compares with 33.7% to 48.3% over the same period for losses due to coyotes, 4.1% to 10.9% due to eagles, and from 11.2% to 20.7% due to weather. Indeed, poison, often left by livestock producers to kill wolves and other predators, was often responsible for a greater proportion of losses than those due to wolf predation.[5]

Emotional trauma is of course impossible to either prove or disprove, but it is important to remember that livestock is ultimately reared for slaughter, either to directly obtain the primary products (meat and hides) or as means of profitably disposing of “spent” dairy or wool herds/flocks. Thus one would expect anyone working in the livestock industry to deal with the death and processing of animals into food and other end-products as part of the day to day running of their business. It is highly unlikely that any individual emotionally disturbed by the slaughter of animals for meat or other products would find livestock work tolerable as a long time career.

The inclusion of wolves in the ESA provides a mechanism for financial compensation to be paid for damages caused by wolves in partnership with the Wolf Compensation Trust,[6] and in the case of wolves found in the act of attacking livestock or other domesticated animals within private property, it is permissible for the owner to take measures necessary to protect them. Therefore it is hard to see how such an act can be a “violation” of rights.

Wolves decimate game herds

“All wolves must be eliminated to restore our big game herds.[7]”

The Canadian wolves have decimated our elk, mule deer and moose populations to lows not seen since the ’60s.[8]

There has been considerable hysteria over the impact of wolf populations on herds of elk. However the National Park Service studies indicate that wolf reintroduction to the park, a major reserve for elk herds, would have negligible affect on hunting activities, and that the effect of wolf predation on elk populations would not, in and of itself, have an impact sufficient to be the decisive factor in elk population management.[9]

Although the reasons behind fluctuating wild animal populations are complex, Drs. Doug Smith, Daniel Stahler and John Vucetich conducted a joint National Park Service-MTU study into elk population at Yellowstone. Their findings found that:[10]
Elk population remained stable from the re-introduction of wolves in 1995 through to 2000, at around 17,000

In the period 2000-2004 the population dropped 50% to 8,334. During this period the Yellowstone area experienced drought conditions, and increased hunting of Elk by humans.

Though hunting permits did not allow for a kill level equivalent to the total population drop, the researchers concluded that hunting, led to a “super-additive” effect, whereby a 1% direct loss rate due to hunting was magnified to significant degree due to knock-on effects, which were only exacerbated by drought conditions.[10] Although wolf predation was acknowledged to exist, it’s effect on the large population drops seen was regarded as a minor, largely insignificant factor:

“Our analysis indicates that there is greater justification for believing that the harvest rate and severe climate, together, account for at least much of the decline[10]”

Wolves attack humans all the time

Whilst it is known that wolf attacks on humans do occur, those engaged in wolf hysteria deliberately exaggerate the risk out of all proportion to implant the idea in their audience that all wolves routinely kill and eat humans.

“Wolves are blood-thirsty predators that attack and kill pets, livestock, children, and adults.[11]”

“Around here we shoot blood-thirsty predators before they kill our horses, cattle, sheep, or children.[11”

“258 Congressional Members Support Funding for Mexican Wolves Stalking Children and Wolves Terrorizing Rural Citizens[12]”

The facts in no way bear out such hysteria. Those involved in wolf hysteria often recount reports from the 18th and 19th centuries recanting real or imagined wolf attacks in Europe and Asia. Although European wolf subspecies are less wary of humans, and are able to live near higher-density human populations than their North American cousins there are no reports of attacks.

[13] As the map clearly shows, no wolf subspecies present on the Eurasian landmass is present on the North American landmass.

Statistics compiled by Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA) on global wild (not captive) wolf attacks show that in the period 1950-2000, (50 years) there were only 13 confirmed cases of wolf attacks on humans in North America, none of which were fatal.[14].

In the United States alone (not the whole of North America), approximately 1 million reported instances of domestic dogs biting humans per year, with an average of 16 to 18 fatal attacks per annum.

(According to Wikimedia Commons,  It is estimated that two percent of the US population, 4.7 million people, are bitten (by dogs) each year.[3] In the 1980s and 1990s the US averaged 17 fatalities per year, while in the 2000s this has increased to 26.[4] 77% of dog bites are from the pet of family or friends, and 50% of attacks occur on the dog owner’s property.[4])


Wolves spread disease

Groups and politicians opposed to wolf conservation often use the claim that wolves spread diseases to livestock and game populations. [15] Whilst wolf populations, like that of any wild animal, carry disease, as apex predators they are more often than not a “dead end” for transmission of disease, and are of little concern when it comes to disease management in most livestock and game populations.[15]

The most serious diseases affecting wolf populations are those which also affect domestic canines, parvo, mange and intestinal worms.[16]In all cases, transmission of the disease is driven infinitely more by domestic dogs than wolves, and it is believed that in most cases these diseases have been introduced to the wolf population by domestic dogs.  A notable exception is the presence of mange in North American wolf populations in the Rocky mountains. This population was deliberately infected by government veterinarians in 1909 as an attempt to “exterminate” the wolf population, spread to coyotes and other mammals, and eventually re-infected wolves upon their reintroduction to the area.


A common refrain is that the only effective solution to any or all of the above is to drastically reduce the population of wolves,[18]. This inevitably entails lethal intervention on the part of humans. Such actions are proposed by many livestock producers as the panacea to all ills, and is, unsurprisingly, encouraged and guided by the hunting, trapping and fur lobby organisations, which naturally present themselves as the only viable way of going about any such lethal solution. Alas, many hunting methods are exceedingly inhumane, with methods such as leg traps being commonplace in North America, though are banned in the EU due to concerns over its inhumane nature.[19]

Other excessively cruel/inhumane methods used include hunting wolves using specially trained flocks of eagles, a method historically and currently used in Central Asia,[20] and recommended in proposals to open up the hunting of wolves in the lower 48 states of the US.[21]


See Footnotes



Meet The Wolf….Fact Not Fiction



Tracking science: Biologist’s findings show forest diversity, health influenced by wolves

Written and photographed by MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian | Posted: Sunday, October 25, 2009 9:00 am

POLEBRIDGE – A clinging mist quieted the morning meadow, the icy hem of its robes brushing silent against autumn’s crackling knee-high grass.

In the darkest shadows, the cold crunch of snow remained, criss-crossed with wolf tracks, bear tracks, elk and deer tracks. Scat and bone and hair and hide. These were the morning news reports written in muddied prints, each with a thin film of ice.

Cristina Eisenberg scanned the headlines, then waded into the meadow to read the particulars.

“It’s all here,” the researcher said. “You just have to know the language.”

To the west, ranging grasslands rose gently to an aspen knoll, the trees all tall white ghosts trembling in the dull gloom of fog. A low row of leafy 10-footers skirted the meadow, backed by a towering canopy now a week or more past fall’s golden height.

There were small young trees, and tall old trees, but no middle-aged aspens and that, combined with the frozen tracks, told Eisenberg something very important about this place.

Until about 1920, wolves patrolled these meadows, which have long been an important wintering ground for elk. Then humans hunted the predators into extinction here, and for 60 years or more the elk grazed in peace. By the mid-1980s, however, wolves were recolonizing the landscape, straying south from Canada to reclaim this western fringe of Glacier National Park.

The 100-year-old aspens grew up with wolves. So did the 20-year-olds. There are no middle-agers, Eisenberg said, because without wolves to run the elk, all the young aspen sprouts were browsed to death.

“It is,” she said, “clear and profound. The wolves leave an indelible mark on the entire ecosystem.”

Read more: http://missoulian.com/lifestyles/territory/article_3ec9fc54-c01f-11de-bf16-001cc4c002e0.html

Photo: Courtesy Rational Wiki

Posted in: Wolf  Wars, Wolf Myths

Tags: Wolf hysteria, moral panics, scaremongering, demonization of wolves, livestock industry, hunting lobbies

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