Man-Eating Wolves Return to Berlin? Let’s Celebrate!

Picture: National Park Service (PD)

Timothy Treadwell: [petting a fox] You can see the bond that has developed between this very wild animal, and this very, fairly, wild person.

– “Grizzly Man

A furious debate between the memories of the past and the beliefs of the present revolves around wolves. It’s not hard to find accounts of people being eaten alive by the wild animals from the pre-Industrial era but, once they were no longer living near populated areas, these accounts dramatically reduce in frequency. There is even a theory that over the years they have learned not to f–k with us[1]. In other words, some people think we live in a world so dominated by humans wild animals are being domesticated by proxy.

Those on the side which maintaining the animals are just misunderstood can celebrate the news that this endangered species appears to have returned to the outskirts of Berlin. From The Independent:

Naturalists in Berlin have sighted a pack of wolves and their cubs just 15 miles south of the German capital for the first time in more than 100 years.

The German office of the World Wildlife Fund said yesterday that farmers had alerted its field workers to the existence a wolf pack which appeared to have moved into a deserted former Soviet army military exercise area near the village of Sperenberg south of Berlin.

Janosch Arnold, a WWF wolf expert, told Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung that naturalists equipped with infra-red night vision cameras had filmed the animals in the area overnight.

“There is definitely a wolf pack with cubs and they seem to be on top of the world,” he said.

Germany’s “last wolf” was reputed to have been shot and killed by hunters in 1904. In 1990, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the animals were declared a protected species and the population began to grow again. Wolves were sighted in remote areas of eastern Germany after they entered from neighbouring Poland.

The discovery of wolves living and apparently breeding so close to a large urban conurbation like Berlin is the first since German reunification in 1990.


Mr Arnold said fear of wolves was unjustified as the animals were reclusive and shy of humans.

[My emphasis]


Meanwhile campaigners continue to try to push the UK’s Government into accepting the re-introduction of Wolves to Scotland, where they were entirely wiped out by humans around the late 1600’s. From The Wolves and Humans Foundation:

Reintroducing the wolf to the Scottish Highlands was first proposed in the late 1960s, […]

Although the British government is required to consider the reintroduction of native species under article 22 of the EU Habitats and Species Directive of 1992, any proposal for reintroduction to Scotland would have to be approved by Scottish Natural Heritage, the government organisation responsible for wildlife and habitats in Scotland, and their position remains that they have no plans to consider reintroduction of wolves.

This is not going to change until something persuades them that reintroduction would not be a controversial issue and would be widely welcomed by the whole spectrum of land users and interests in Scotland. There are however pointers for the future; agriculture in Scotland, particularly sheep farming, which has always been one of the major stumbling blocks […]


Initially the death of Scotland’s final wolf was seen as cause for celebration. It appears the people of the time had yet to be told by enviromentalists that wolves were ‘reclusive and shy of humans’. There was even a special stone carved to comemorate the name of the man who killed the last one, he appears to have been seen at the time as a hero. Fortunately for the conservationist side of the debate the BBC makes it clear how “sad” his apparent victory was:

A carved stone by the side of the A9 near Brora claims to mark the site where the last wolf in Sutherland was killed by a man called Polson in 1700.

The unremarkable grey marker reflects the sad demise of the wild animal in Scotland.

[My emphasis]

The BBC’s opinions on the issue are here.

Disinfo welcomes your thoughts in the comments section. This is an ongoing debate and finding reliable sources has been tricky for your correspondent. It’d be particularly useful if you or a member of your friends or family have in fact been savaged by a wild wolf. The best case scenario would be if someone died in the attack. That would ‘kill the debate’ for me, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Nick Margerrison.


The Fear of Wolves: A review of wolf attacks on humans

A scholarly document produced by ‘Norsk institutt for naturforskning’ on behalf of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe.

From page 16:

4.3 Predatory

Predatory attacks appear to usually involve single wolves or single packs, that learn to exploit humans as prey. In these cases the victims are usually directly attacked around the neck and face in a sustained manner. The bodies are often dragged away and consumed unless the wolves are disturbed. Although single incidents have occured these predatory attacks tend to cluster in space and time, and continue until the wolf is killed.

[1] The above document appears to be the original source for this theory. I think a similar process of evolution has driven pigeons in the opposite direction. Don’t believe me? Go to London and observe the well meaning mothers who stop their little children from chasing them. Then notice the brazen attitude of these birds and ask yourself, was it ever thus? In my opinion you should let your kids chase pigeons; it teaches them both a form of respect!

Nick Margerrison

I write on Disinfo for fun, I've been a fan of the company for years.

In the real world I'm a freelance TV/radio presenter. I've worked for LBC, Kerrang Radio, The Bay, Edge Media TV, Hallam FM and The BBC.

My podcast is here:

21 Comments on "Man-Eating Wolves Return to Berlin? Let’s Celebrate!"

  1. Earthstar | Nov 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm |

    The wolves that once existed on the British Isles were far larger and far more numerous than wolves in continental Europe. They constantly killed livestock, and often attacked and killed people as well. Scotland built safe houses along all highways, just to shelter travelers from wolf attacks. So, people had good reason to be afraid. Now, I doubt very much that these will be the same wolves reintroduced and I believe small wolves and humans will co-exist quite well after a bit of public education on the issue.

  2. I think We’ve graduated from thinking of other animals as competitors. I think its safe to say humans completely dominate. So the choice is ours if we want to reintroduce top predators. They can revolutionize ecosystems and increase biodiversity. Re-wilding as a a way to manage natural resources.

    • kowalityjesus | Nov 27, 2012 at 9:26 pm |

      Wolves are more than top predators. They are the spirit of the woods. The DNR doesn’t think they are back in L.P. MI but I’ve seen them and heard them. Uncanny, and such an honor to have back.

    • In outer suburbs, choice might be between wolves or some other kind of predation or having deer eat your garden, or deer overpopulation resulting in lots of starving deer.

      • Matt Staggs | Nov 28, 2012 at 9:35 am |

        Deer have run wild here without the panther (long eradicated in Mississippi) to keep them in check. I’ve seen individual deer strolling my neighborhood. Sadly, they’re about to be out of luck, too. The local burgomeisters are hell-bent on turning every bit of natural space in the area into gas stations, banks and fast food joints.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Nov 27, 2012 at 8:12 pm |

    the boy who cried wolf comes to mind

  4. drew hempel | Nov 27, 2012 at 9:11 pm |

    The wolves are getting slaughtered right now in Minnesota — the only place where wolves have remained wild in the lower 48. The MN DNR supports this “wolf hunt” as part of their scientific management but there’s no evidence for this — something about studying the killed animals to help the others stay alive. haha. Hundreds have been killed — hundreds of wolves — in the last couple weeks. There’s a group protesting and I think some lawsuits are lined up – the Native Indian reservation has declared their land off limits to wolves but it makes a show down between the feds and the Natives. So anyway tragic that the wolf continues to be feared and blamed — I had a friend freak out about wolves — he was from farther north in Minnesota. Not that far north from the Twin Cities — I said I’m sure it was coyotes. He insisted that the livestock kill was from wolves. haha. People are scared of nature and take it out on the wolves — very strange — like can’t have another animal that is just as powerful as humans out on the land. Barry Lopez’ book on wolves really does a great job covering the white man decimation of wolves.

    • They aren’t getting slaughtered. They are merely legal to hunt. They are very elusive.

    • Wolves did remain wild only on the state of MN mostly in the BWCAW, but then they spread to the UP and Wisconsin and North Dakota since then. There are tens of thousands of wolves now in the Mid West. Their are also healthy populations in Wyoming, Montana and idaho.
      Wolves are here to stay even with legal hunting and trapping, just like in Alaska. They got wiped out before from bounties, arial hunting and poisoning campaigns. So they won’t get wiped out again unless they bring that back, which is unlikely.
      They aren’t any more endagered from hunting season than white tails.

  5. drew hempel | Nov 27, 2012 at 9:14 pm |

    Oh I mean the White Earth reservation has declared off limits to wolf HUNTERS not to wolves. Oh Wisconsin is doing it to! So 95 killed in WI. Some 165 wolves killed in Minnesota

    • At least they’re not completely eradicating them. If only humans were as precise at keeping our own numbers in sync with the local habitat as we are with keeping other large predators at sustainable levels.

    • I used to live near White Earth. I saw wolf shit there with moose fur and bones in it all the time.

  6. Are they 100% sure these are wolves ALL THE TIME?


  7. As industrial civilization begins to quickly recede, the wolves (as well as wild dogs) will come back by themselves. No need for conservation. Everyone’s gonna need to pack firepower in 10-15 years.

  8. Fascinating to note that there have been no documented attacks by healthy wolves on human beings in the Americas, where they and humans have cohabitated for a far shorter period of time than in Europe. Did we arrive better-prepared to defend ourselves, and thus never give them a chance to learn that we could be prey?

    • InfvoCuernos | Nov 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm |

      Or possibly it could be due to indigenous native beliefs respecting wolves that prevented wolves from being seen as competition and the (pre-columbian) native lack of small farm animals like chickens and sheep which could become prey to wolves. Its easier to get along with neighbors when they aren’t taking your food. Or Europeans are just assholes.

  9. Roger Mexico | Nov 29, 2012 at 3:40 am |

    I doubt there’s any reason to worry about widespread wolf attacks on humans. Generally where large wild predators end up being a nuisance or threat to human settlements, it’s the result of humans pushing into what used to be the other animals’ territory, not the other way around. A city full of people, cars, lights, noise, and whatnot isn’t really going to entice an animal used to a vastly different habitat, unless it has no other option. When settlement ramps up, the species that can’t adapt the way pigeons and squirrels have tend to either move on or disappear.

    I didn’t know England/etc. had such a huge wolf population back in the day, but it seems less than typical to have such a density of them in such a small area. Also that was the Middle Ages–I think we’ve made some relevant technological advances since then. Not that it couldn’t happen, sometimes, but I suspect the combination of greater human vs. wolf population disparity with humans being more formidable adversaries as a group makes this idea of civilized regions “going to the wolves” a bit laughable.

    Opposition to “apex predator” reintroductions in the US is almost always about livestock farming, which is the main reason species like wolves were wiped out in the first place. If you convert what used to be a forest where wolves hunted deer into a pasture full of cattle or sheep (thereby displacing the deer), you’d expect the wolves to see the domestic ruminants you’re introducing as a suitable (and perhaps more plentiful/easier) substitute. So the extermination of large carnivores has tended to be a component of the conversion of wild land into pasture land, and it’s generally the ranchers who’d rather see the wolves/etc. stay exterminated.

  10. Wyoming Smiths | Nov 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |

    Before any misty eyed idiots start lamenting how reclusive and shy of humans wolves are I suggest the readers investigate the current problems occuring in the Rocky Mtn West of the US. Wolves have a evil intelligence to them as they kill for sport and malice. Once wolves are reintroduced to a area they will grow in numbers quickly and kill off the dominant herds of deer, elk and livestock

    • You make them sound like gremlins or something.

    • Roger Mexico | Nov 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm |

      It probably gets complicated if you have other problems with declining numbers of the prey species due to habitat destruction or other forces. This is an issue here in Oregon with sea lions preying on endangered salmon runs. (The dams are a big part of what caused the salmon decline in the first place, but the seals have learned to exploit the dams as a chokepoint for catching salmon, and become a threat to their recovery.)
      Large predators are a natural control on overpopulation of their prey species, though. I used to work at a Boy Scout camp in northern Wisconsin that had a problem with white tail overpopulation–they don’t allow hunting on the camp grounds because there are groups of kids there sometimes in the winter, but without a non-human control like wolves the deer were just breeding out of control. You could see how they were decimating the underbrush in the forest.

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