European wolves, as most all others, live and hunt in packs which are extended families
of an alpha (the dominant male), his mate, and their offspring. They usually stay within a home range, but may wander far
outside their territory to hunt. They hunt and kill game up to 10 times heavier than their own weight. Wild reindeer, elk,
and red deer are their favorite prey. European wolves will also eat much smaller animals such as mice and frogs. Because of
the decline in the number of wild game, they have begun to prey on domestic horses, cattle, and dogs. Starving wolves will
even eat potatoes, fruits, buds, and lichen.
The alpha male and
female mate between January and March. The cubs are born seven weeks later in a den dug among bushes or rocks. The male brings
food back to the den, either by carrying it whole or by swallowing and then regurgitating it for the others to eat. As the
cubs grow, the mother and other members of the pack help to feed them.
Few European countries still have substantial numbers of wolves. Wild wolves
are hard to count, so exact numbers are not known. Sometimes radio-tracking is used to determine their numbers. European wolves
have managed to survive only in the most remote, mountainous, or densely forested regions. Areas in which these wolves can
live without coming into conflict with humans are decreasing. There is little effective international agreement about the wolf's conservation. All efforts to preserve the wolf are conducted locally.
Because of the increasing shortage of natural prey in Italy, wolves have been forced to give up their pack-hunting habits,
and scavenge for food around villages and farmhouses. Roughly, about 250 wolves live in remote mountainous areas in Italy,
and are officially protected. Projects which are financed by the World Wide Fund for Nature may enable small numbers of wolves
to survive if farmers and herdsman can be persuaded to accept them. Many rural villages have open dumps where the local slaughterhouse
disposes of its waste.
Many wolves feed there alongside feral or stray dogs. These dogs and wolves will occasionally
mate, and their offspring are often impossible to distinguish from ordinary dogs. The wolf-dog's (Right) deceptive appearance
means that it is quite dangerous. Wolf-dogs may wander freely through populated areas, unrecognized as wolves. They are wilder
than their feral parents. They can be extremely ferocious, and are often infected with rabies.
In Norway, Wolves
are protected to the extent that they are illegal to kill by anyone other than farmers protecting their livestock. To prevent
continuous slaughter, farmers are often compensated for livestock which is killed by the endangered wolves. "Grupo Lobo" was
founded in Spain and Portugal in 1985 in attempt to protect the wolves in the mountains on the Spain/Portugal border. There
is an extremely small number of wolves in Sweden, regardless of protective legislation. These systems are often abused. Lapp
herdsman in the North of Sweden have often blamed the deaths of their reindeer on wolves rather than on poor care.
The "wolf-plague" in Scotland resulted in the extermination of the animal there.
The last British wolf died in 1743. Wolves survived in Ireland until about 1773. Similar waves of wolf persecution on the
European continent has driven the few survivors into remote areas far away from human settlement.
Although the wolf
is a protected species in most European countries, some hunters see no reason to stop killing wolves for sport, and will pay
a great deal of money for the privilege. Wolf survival in Europe obviously requires more than simple legislations. These wolves
are rather shy and intelligent, yet they are still viewed as a ruthless predator by the mainstream.