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The World At A Glance 

Wolves once ranged in a wide variety of ecosystems around the world in the northern hemisphere. Changing habitats, prey densities and availability, and human competition and hunting are influencing variables on where wolves can live.  Currently, wild wolf populations representing two, distinct species of wolf are found in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Explore this section for details on wolf populations around the world. Information is categorized by region, country, province and state, and is updated using a variety of scientific sources such as national agencies or organizations, scientific literature as well as from wolf professionals as it becomes available.

Worldwide, the gray wolf, Canis lupus, is considered an IUCN Species of Least Concern.  The red wolf, Canis rufus, found in North America, is considered critically endangered.

Requirements For Survival

Wolves in the wild have three main requirements for survival: an adequate food base, habitat to reside in (and for their food to reside in), and tolerance from humans. The first two are fairly straightforward. The last requirement is much more complex. The word “tolerance” does not mean that every person must like wolves. It means that people accept the existence of wolves living on the landscape with them and allow them to live. In some cases, this may mean that conflict between wolves and humans must be addressed, such as depredation.

So, how do these requirements fit into the life of wolves around the world?

Prey – Food

Isle Royale wolf feeding on bull moose carcass

Isle Royale wolf feeding on bull moose carcass

The wolf is a large carnivore and requires a diet high in protein. Wolves are also referred to as top-level predators because there is no other wild animal that hunts wolves to eat them. As a large carnivore, the wolf requires a large prey source, usually an ungulate or hoofed animal, such as deer, moose, elk or caribou.  These large hoofed animals make up most of the diet of wolves around the world. In fact, in most places where wolves live, you will find an ungulate. Wolves will supplement their diet with smaller mammals such as beaver, hares/rabbits or lemmings when they can. Wolves occasionally eat garbage and livestock as well. This is a point of controversy that requires mitigation by wildlife management agents and, when possible, alternative husbandry methods (guard animals, fencing, fladry, range –riders, etc.).

The types of ungulate that wolves eat changes as we travel around the world in wolf range. Why do you think the shapes, sizes or colors of prey change geographically?

Habitat – Wildlands

Arctic wolf on Canadian landscape

Arctic wolf on Canadian landscape

Wolves were once found in most ecosystems above the 22nd parallel north (north of the equator). Currently, they are found in ecosystems as far north as the North Pole and as far south as the 20th parallel (Mexico City, Mexico; Bombay, India). With such a wide range of latitudes to live in, you can imagine the diversity in types of ecosystems that wolves live in too.  From tundra to desert, Great Plains to temperate rainforest, wolves and their prey have adapted to a wide variety of climates and habitats.

The largest concentration of wolves are now are in the northern regions of the world such as Canada and Russia.  Why do you think this has changed?

Human Tolerance – Humans are likely the biggest influence on the survival of wolf populations around the world.

Soliders displaying Wolf pelt at Soda Butte Creek patrol station, Yellowstone National Park, 1905

Soldiers displaying wolf pelt at Soda Butte Creek patrol station, Yellowstone National Park, 1905

We know from history that types of civilizations and cultural beliefs toward wolves shift and change over time influencing human behavior toward wolves and thus, wolf survival.  

Whether we realize it or not, humans have a significant influence on wolf survival worldwide. Humans determine management policy including lethal control measures, population caps and hunting and/or trapping seasons. Humans use science to inform management policy and conflict mitigation but we also have opinions and emotions that influence choices we make and actions we take.  These actions either directly or indirectly affect wolf survival.  Additionally, we pass those opinions and emotions on to others, which may potentially influence someone else’s thoughts and actions towards wolves. Our choices make a difference. What are your opinions about wolves?

 


Special thanks to the following people and organizations whose financial support made Wolves of the World on the web possible:

Anonymous (3); The James Ford Bell Foundation; Mary Lee Dayton; Nancy Gibson and Ron Sternal, Dr. L. David Mech; and the Tracy A. Weeks Fund of the Saint Paul Foundation.

The International Wolf Center would especially like to thank the biologists from around the world for their assistance in obtaining information found within this section.

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