Canis lupus

[Regional assessment]

Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Canis lupus
Species Authority: Linnaeus, 1758
Common Name(s):
English Gray Wolf, Tundra Wolf, Arctic Wolf, Grey Wolf, Mexican Wolf, Plains Wolf, Timber Wolf, Common Wolf, Wolf
French Loup, Loup Gris, Loup Vulgaire
Spanish Lobo, Lobo
Taxonomic Notes: All European wolves are Canis lupus. Only two subspecies are recognized: C. l. signatus (Iberia) and C. l. italicus (Italy, France and Switzerland)

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2007
Date Assessed: 2006-11-02
Assessor(s): Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe
Reviewer(s): Helen Temple and Craig Hilton-Taylor
European regional assessment: Least Concern (LC)
EU 25 regional assessment: Least Concern (LC)

Following the bottleneck of the 1960s and 1970s, the European wolf population is generally increasing in number and expanding the distribution range. The total number of wolves in the EU 25 is likely to be in the order of 4-5,000, and the number of wolves in geographic Europe is likely to exceed 10,000. Consequently the species qualifies as Least Concern at the European and EU 25 level.

1. Iberia
Near Threatened. The Iberian population is large (about 2,500 wolves) and expanding toward south and east. It does not qualify for the category Vulnerable and it is maintained in category Near Threatened because of the fragmentation in management regimes, the lack of a population level management plan, the occurrence of largely unpredictable events of human reaction against wolves (poison, shooting, etc.) that may threaten the population at local level. The small population of Sierra Morena is far from the main population in the North and should be classified as Critically Endangered (D).

2. Western-Central Alps
Endangered (D). The Alpine population is the recent outgrowth of the Italian wolf population and it is still numerically small. Though it is increasing fast, it is currently estimated to be 100-120 animals, and it has limited genetic and demographic contacts with the adjacent population of the Apennines (less than one successful migrant per year, meaning that it qualifies as a subpopulation under IUCN Red List guidelines). Its small size justifies the assessment in category Endangered.

3. Italian peninsula
Vulnerable (D1). The Italian wolf population is estimated to be 500-800 individuals distributed along the Apennines. The shape of the range is narrow and elongated, restricted to the Apennines. The population has limited exchanges with the population of the Western Alps and recent genetic evidence indicates a flux of genes only in the direction toward the Alps. In spite of the recent increase in numbers and range, the Italian wolf population is still highly vulnerable to local extermination from human pressures (poison, shooting, car accidents) and the stochastic nature of these events suggest to maintain a cautionary assessment. The population does not qualify for the category Endangered, but it may easily reverse its current favourable status.

4. Dinaric-Balkan
Least Concern. This large wolf population (c.5,000 animals) appears to be in favourable conservation status mainly due to the limited management caused by the recent political instability of large areas of the region. However, the more marginal parts of the range may be subject to excessive pressure from human disturbance (Slovenia, southern Greece) and ad-hoc management actions should be implemented.

5. Carpathian
Least Concern. This large wolf population (c.5,000 animals) appears to be in favourable conservation status mainly due to the conservation implemented in Romania. However, some of the marginal areas of the range may be subject to excessive pressure (southern Poland, Slovakia) and may require ad-hoc conservation measures. Those marginal areas are also critical because of completely different management regimes implemented in neighboring countries (Ukraine, Poland and Slovakia). To ensure viability of those marginal parts of the Carpathian population international common decisions are important.

6. Baltic
Least Concern. The relatively large number of wolves and the continuity of the range into Russia support its assessment in the category of Least Concern. However, the small portions of the population in Poland and some of the Baltic States may require conservation measures to ensure their long term persistence.

7. Karelia
Near Threatened. The total population in Finland and Russian Karelia is not known, but is considered likely to number less than 10,000, and it may be declining as a result of persecution. The degree of fragmentation is not known. Consequently it is assessed precautionarily as Vulnerable (C2a(i)). The Karelian population is generally considered to be in contact with the large Russian population, and there would potentially be a rescue effect, so the assessment is downgraded by one step to Near Threatened. Very little information is currently available on the status of the wolf in Russian Karelia, and this population should be reassessed if any new relevant data becomes available.

8. Scandinavia
Endangered (D). The number of mature individuals is estimated to be less than 250. The population has low genetic variability and has had no genetic exchange with the Finnish population since 1991.

9. Germany/western Poland
Critically Endangered (D). The population is tiny, fragmented and isolated.
2004 Least Concern

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Originally, the wolf was the world's most widely distributed mammal, living throughout the northern hemisphere north of 15°N latitude in North America and 12°N in India. It is distributed worldwide under domestication (as the domestic dog Canis familiaris). It has become extinct in much of Western Europe (Boitani 1995), in Mexico and much of the USA (Mech 1970). Present distribution is more restricted; wolves occur primarily in wilderness and remote areas, especially in Canada, Alaska and northern USA, Europe, and Asia from about 75°N to 12°N (Sillero-Zubiri et al. 2004). In Europe wolves are found from sea level to 2,400 m, although in central and southern areas they tend to occur in mountainous areas above 600 m, as a result of persecution (Sulkava and Pulliainen 1999). The European wolf population is a large metapopulation with several distinct fragments, which can be described as follows (LCIE 2007):

1. Iberia
Wolves are found in the north-western quadrant of Iberia including the western Basque country. Not in the Pyrenees, but south as far as Ávila. A very small number of wolves is isolated in the Sierra Morena mountains in southern Spain (Blanco and Cortés 2002, Álvares 2005).

2. Western-Central Alps
The population occupies an area that includes most of the Western Alps in France and Italy, many wolf packs territories being transboundary along the French-Italian border south of Valle d’Aosta. Isolated animals are dispersing regularly into Switzerland as far as Grisons but failed, until now, to establish a permanent pack (Boitani 2003, Marucco et al. 2005, Tropini et al. 2005).

3. Italian peninsula
Wolves occur in the whole Apennines range from Liguria to Calabria (Aspromonte) and extending into northern Lazio and central western Tuscany (provinces of Siena, Grosseto and Pisa) (Ciucci and Boitani 1998, Corsi et al. 1999, Boitani 2003).

4. Dinaric-Balkan
The population cover a vast area from Slovenia to north-central Greece and it includes the whole Dinaric mountain range through Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, western Serbia and Kosovo, Montenegro, F.Y.R.O. Macedonia, Albania, western and southern Bulgaria.

5. Carpathian
The central Carpathian mountains in Romania are home of one of the healthiest and more numerous wolf population in Europe. This population extends across several countries, from Northern Bulgaria to Eastern Serbia, Romania, south-western Ukraine, Slovakia and southern Poland. Wolves are rarely reported in the Czech Republic.

6. Baltic
This population covers eastern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, northern Ukraine and the Russian oblasts of Kaliningrad, Lenningrad, Novgorod, Pskov, Tver, Smolensk, Bryansk, Moscow, Kursk, Belgorod and Orel.

7. Karelia
Wolves occur in Finland (mainly in the south) and Russian Karelia. The Finnish wolf population is a fringe population of a large Russian population.

8. Scandinavia
The distribution range of the population is in central Sweden and, to a lesser extent, in south-eastern Norway. It is spreading slowly toward southern and northern Sweden and into southern Norway.

9. Germany/western Poland
This population consists of scattered packs living in eastern Germany (Saxony) and western Poland.
Austria; Belarus; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Croatia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Kazakhstan; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Moldova; Montenegro; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russian Federation; Serbia (Serbia); Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Turkey; Ukraine; United Kingdom
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Because of the diversity in climate, topography, vegetation, human settlement and development of wolf range, wolf populations in various parts of the original range vary from extinct to relatively pristine. Wolf densities vary from about one per 12 km² to one per 120 km². Sillero et al. (2004) provide details, for each range country in the world, on subspecies present, population status, approximate numbers, the percentage of former range occupied at present, main prey (where known), legal status, and cause of decline. The European wolf population is a large metapopulation with several distinct fragments, although dispersal could theoretically connect almost all fragments. Following the bottleneck of the 1960s and 1970s, the European wolf population is generally increasing in number and expanding the distribution range. However, most European populations are still small and only a few have more than 1,000 animals (see below for specific details). Dispersing animals can be found anywhere in Europe. The total number of wolves in the EU 25 is likely to be in the order of 4-5,000; some of the populations are in continuity with wolf populations living in countries not yet part of the EU. The number of wolves in geographic Europe is likely to exceed 10,000.

1. Iberia
Population size: 2,500 wolves (including c.50 in the Sierra Morena). The Iberian wolf (Canis lupus signatus) may be a distinct subspecies. After the population reduction up to the 1960s, it is currently increasing in numbers and expanding its range across central Spain. The northwestern population is expanding, having recently crossed the Duero river in Spain. There are three distinct population segments within this population. The largest is that north of the river Duero in both countries. South of the Duero in Portugal there is a small segment of around 50 wolves which has only limited exchange of animals with the segments north of the Duero in Portugal and east to the Spanish segment south of the Duero. The isolated population in the Sierra Morena numbers c.50 individuals and appears to be stable.

The nearest wolf population is in the Western Alps and connections between the two are nonexistent or limited to exceptional cases. In Cataluña, there are currently 2-3 wolves that have been genetically identified as members of the Alpine population from where they are assumed to have dispersed naturally (Blanco and Cortés 2002, Álvares 2005).

2. Western-Central Alps
Population size: 100-120 wolves. This population is of Italian origin and all wolves share the same Italian genetic haplotype. Individual wolves dispersing from the Apennines first colonized the Alps in 1992 and succeeded in establishing a permanent and expanding population which shows a highly dynamic spatial pattern spreading towards the west and north. The total number is estimated to be 100-120 wolves, increasing on average by 10% per year. The genetic continuity with the Apennines population has been recently assessed at 2.5 individuals per generation, all of them moving from the Apennines to the Alpine population. In 2005, a young radio-marked wolf dispersed more than 1000 km from Parma to Nice, providing evidence of the natural dispersal along the northern Apennines range. In spite of the continuity between the two populations, their ecological and socio-economic contexts are sufficiently different to justify a separation for management purposes (Boitani 2003, Marucco et al. 2005, Tropini et al. 2005, LCIE 2007).

3. Italian peninsula
Population size: 500-800 wolves. The population has been described in 1921 (Altobello 1921) and confirmed in 1999 (Nowak 1999) as a distinct subspecies (Canis lupus italicus). It is genetically recognized by the presence of a unique mtDNA haplotype. After the population bottleneck of the 1960s, when total numbers were estimated to be about 100 animals, the population has steadily recovered and expanded into the western Alps. In 2006, the population was estimated to be 500-800 wolves. The nearest population (apart that in the Western Alps, see above) is in Slovenia (Dinaric-Balkan population). However, a large portion of the central Alps and the agricultural Po river valley effectively separate the Italian and the Dinaric populations (Ciucci and Boitani 1998, Corsi et al. 1999, Boitani 2003).

4. Dinaric-Balkan
Population size: 5,000 wolves.There is continuity of the population and suitable habitats throughout the range although the population might be significantly structured within the elongated range. The population is estimated to number c.5,000 individuals, although locally the densities may vary greatly and its overall demographic trend is unknown. In Croatia and Slovenia, the population has recovered significantly following active management started in the 1990s. To the north, the population has no contact with the nearest population in Italy, although dispersing animals are reported in Austria and eastern Italy. To the east, the population may exchange individuals with the large wolf population of the Carpathians which extends into northern Bulgaria (Iliopoulos 1999, Kusak et al. 2005, Štrbenac et al. 2005).

5. Carpathian
This population is estimated to number c.5,000 animals, the majority of them living in Romania and Ukraine. Slovakia hosts about 400-500 wolves and southern Poland contributes with good wolf habitat in the areas along the south-eastern borders (wolf population in Polish Carpathians is about 180-220 individuals). In the past, there was natural continuity with wolves living in northern Poland and Belarus but the link is now constrained by large areas where wolves have been exterminated. Nevertheless, it is likely that some level of genetic exchange still occurs with the Dinaric-Balkan population in western Bulgaria and with the Belarusian population in eastern-central Poland (Okarma 1993, CLCP 1997-98, 2000, 2001, 2002; Smietana and Wajda 1997, Okarma et al. 2000).

6. Baltic
Population size: 3,600 wolves. The trend throughout the region appears to have been very consistent. At the start of the 20th century populations were reduced, but still widely present, these increased during and after World War 1. In the period between the wars, populations were greatly reduced again, but recovered to peak levels during and after Word War 2, only to be heavily persecuted in the 1950s such that they again reached very low levels in the 1960s and early 1970s. The populations appear to have then increased, peaking in the early 1990s – before being shot down again in the late 1990s. There are about 1,000 wolves in Poland and the Baltic States, about 1,000 in Belarus and 1,600 in the neighbouring Russian oblasts. This population is the westernmost portion of the large Russian population and it connects with the wolf range of Russian Karelia. In Poland, although the distribution is not continuous, it is highly likely that dispersal is still possible between the northern and southern populations (Carpathian), and dispersal towards west (Germany) is still observed (Bluzma 2000, Ozolins and Andersone 2001, Valdmann 2001, Sidorovich et al. 2003, Linnell et al. 2006).

7. Karelia
Population size: 750 wolves. Following widespread control of the population in the first part of 20th century, the population recovered after the 1980s and 1990s. The current estimates are based on counts of family groups in Finland (about 200 wolves in Finland) and the population is expanding. In Karelia wolf numbers appear to be stable.

8. Scandinavia
Population size: 130-150 wolves. The population derives from a pair that immigrated from Finland and first reproduced in Sweden in 1983. A third immigrant in 1991 boosted the reproduction and the population is now estimated to be 130-150 wolves (about 20% in Norway), with as many as 15 litters produced in 2006. The population has been steadily increasing from 1983-2001, then slightly decreased in 2002-3, and is currently increasing again. There is evidence of no genetic exchanges with the Finnish/Russian wolf population after 1991. Immigration from Finland is the only possible mechanism to increase the genetic variability of the population.

9. Germany/western Poland
Population size: <50 wolves. Wolves were exterminated in Germany during the 19th century, but individuals that were dispersing from Poland were shot occasionally throughout the 20th century. In the mid 1990s a pack began breeding in Saxony, and there are currently two packs breeding regularly. Wolves in western Poland have had a dynamic history, but presently there are only a few widely scattered packs throughout the region. This population is extremely fragmented internally. Potential connections exist to both the Baltic and Carpathian populations, but the distances are in the order of several hundred kilometers.
Population Trend: Increasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Wolves live in diverse habitat types and their broad distribution ranges show the species' adaptability to the most extreme habitat conditions. The wolf's habitat has been described as everywhere where humans do not kill it and where there is something to eat. Where wolves depend on wild ungulate prey, their habitat is that of their prey. Habitat quality should thus be interpreted in terms of human disturbance, prey densities and range size. In general, large forest areas are particularly suitable for wolves in Europe, although wolves are not primarily a forest species. The wolf has a very diversified diet and is a true generalist that feeds opportunistically on what is most available in its habitat. The wolf diet may include large prey, such as moose, deer and wild boar, or small vertebrates, invertebrates, vegetables and carcasses. Diet composition throughout the geographic range and seasonal variations depends on the relative abundance of potential prey, as well as accessibility and availability. A wolf typically requires 3-5 kg of meat per day, although it can fast for several days when food is not readily available.
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Human intolerance is perhaps the greatest threat facing wolves in Europe today. Fear, misunderstanding and the fact that wolves do kill livestock have prompted an uneasy relationship with people in many areas, leading to direct conflict and persecution. In some countries unrestricted hunting of wolves poses a threat, while in others, licenses for killing wolves are issued irrespective of biological understanding. Poaching is widespread and probably represents the most important mortality factor for the wolf in Europe. Wolves preying on domestic animals have been a problem since man progressed from hunter/gatherer to farmer, and although the numbers of sheep or cattle taken are, as a percentage very low, livestock depredation remains the primary reason for exterminating wolves. Human encroachment is the most significant threat to wolf habitat. Wolves can live close to humans but they require safe areas in which to retreat. This is not considered in land planning in wolf areas and the small, fragmented populations in Western Europe can result in animals moving into unsuitable habitat. Specific threats to different European wolf populations are as follows:

1. Iberia
Illegal killing is still common (estimated to account for 50% of the total mortality) and poison baits are used (Blanco and Cortés 2002, Álvares 2005).

2. Western-Central Alps
Documented causes of mortality include primarily car or train accidents and poaching events. Several cases of illegal killings have been reported in France and Italy, and conflicts with hunters and farmers are constantly reported. Both France and the Regional Government of Piemonte have been carrying out extensive and continuous research and monitoring of the wolf population and the damages to livestock and excellent data is available for management purposes. The number of livestock depredations in the Italian Alps is decreasing, despite the increase in wolf numbers, due to the high efforts in the implementation of preventive practices promoted by the Regional Government of Piemonte. Also if the wolf presence is still far from being accepted by local farmers and livestock breeders, the general attitude is improving (Boitani 2003, Marucco et al. 2005, Tropini et al. 2005).

3. Italian peninsula
The population is protected on paper but the law is poorly enforced and unpersecuted illegal killing is very common throughout the range. Poison baits are increasingly used against dogs, foxes and wolves. Hybridization with dogs has been found and it appears to account for at least 5% of the total wolf population (Ciucci and Boitani 1998, Corsi et al. 1999, Boitani 2003, Verardi et al. 2006).

4. Dinaric-Balkan
Legal hunting and illegal killing are taking an unknown number of wolves throughout most of the range. Other pressures are commonly reported: widespread use of poisons, habitat fragmentation due to construction of fenced highways and shortage of wild preys (Huber et al. 2002, Iliopoulos 2005).

5. Carpathian
Poison baits and illegal killing are widespread throughout the range. In Ukraine, wolves are often treated as a pest species.

6. Baltic
The Latvian population appears to be on the way to being divided into two, with the area south of Riga starting to appears as a carnivore free area. This development will greatly increase the vulnerability of carnivore populations in western Latvia.

7. Karelia
The main threat to wolves in this region is killing by humans. In Finland, wolves cause very limited damage to livestock; predation on domestic dogs is the most frequent damage that cause strong resentment from the public.

8. Scandinavia
The inbreeding coefficient is very high, on average higher than for full siblings mating (Liberg et al. 2005). Predation on domestic dogs, sheep and reindeer are the most frequent damages that cause continuing debate on wolf conservation.

9. Germany/western Poland
The main risk for this population is its very small size, highly fragmented internal structure, and long distance from any other source. Coordination between Germany and western Poland is crucial. A single litter of wolf-dog hybrid pups was born in 2003.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The species is strictly protected by the Bern Convention (Appendix II) and is in Appendix II of CITES. In the European Union the species is protected by the Habitats Directive but there are several exceptions:
1) in Spain, wolves north of the Duero river are not protected
2) in Greece, wolves north of 39°N are not protected
3) in Finland, wolves occurring in the reindeer herding area in northern Finland fall under Annex V of the Habitats Directive; wolves outside the reindeer herding area fall under Annex IV
4) in the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) wolves are harvested (HD Appendix V)

In general, habitat restoration is required in key areas to increase a healthy prey base and encourage wolves to move back into their former territory where appropriate. Corridors of land between small populations need to be established to allow movement of animals and prevent local extinctions. Conflict with humans needs to be addressed by involving local people in wolf management plans and through education programmes to increase people' s understanding of wolf biology and behaviour. Problems resulting from wolves preying on domestic animals need to be tackled by livestock protection schemes and compensation systems. Details of specific conservation measures for European wolf populations are given below:

1. Iberia
Wolves are fully protected in Portugal and south of the Duero river in Spain. North of the Duero, wolves are game species under various management regimes depending on legislation of 8 autonomous regional governments. Asturias has a wolf management plan and Galicia and Castilla y León are about to approve their plans. The autonomous regions are gradually approving their action plans. However, management coordination among the regional governments and between Spain and Portugal is very limited. The sub-population of Sierra Morena require ad-hoc management to ensure its viability (Blanco and Cortés 2002, Álvares 2005).

2. Western-Central Alps
The population is fully protected under the French, Italian and Swiss law. In France and Switzerland the national Action Plans include provisions for legal take of few wolves under strict conditions of damages on livestock. The three countries have recently (2006) signed a formal agreement of cooperation for the management of the entire population, marking an innovative procedure based on the recognition that the biological population needs to be managed through a common and accepted approach.

3. Italian peninsula
Fully protected by a national law, while damage compensation is provided by 14 different regional laws. Compensation paid per wolf has been estimated to be the highest among European countries, but the effectiveness of compensation programs has never been assessed and it is increasingly questioned. Apart from formal protection the population is not actively managed. The species occur in several protected areas throughout its range but the size of these areas is far too small to protect a viable population. In spite of formal protection, illegal killings are estimated to take a substantial portion of the population every year (up to 15-20%). A national Action Plan sets the broad strategic ground for management but is not being implemented by the national and regional governments (Ciucci and Boitani 1998, Corsi et al. 1999, Boitani 2003).

4. Dinaric-Balkan
Management is fragmented by several national laws. It is a game species in almost all countries, except for Slovenia, Croatia and Greece south of 39° latitude where wolves are fully protected. In Croatia, an effective Action Plan is in place and implemented (Štrbenac et al. 2005). In general, law enforcement is weak or totally absent even in protected populations.

5. Carpathian
In Slovakia wolves are game species with hunting season 1.11-15.1 and no quotas per season; in the Czech Republic they are protected game species, but hunting is prohibited; in Poland they are protected and in Romania they are protected game species with hunting quotas decided yearly; in Ukraine wolves are not game species nor protected (often treated as “pest” species, with bounties of c.20 Euro per individual) (Salvatori et al. 2002).

6. Baltic
The standard management practice for most of the 20th century was open harvest, often with bounty incentives, all with the view of exterminating wolves, or at least seriously reducing their numbers. This situation persisted until the 1990s, when restrictions on their harvest gradually came into place in all countries They are currently protected in Poland, but harvested in the three Baltic States (EU Habitats & Species Directive Appendix V) and in Belorussia and Ukraine. The sub-population of western Poland and Germany requires ad-hoc management to ensure its viability. There is an action plan for the conservation of the wolf in Latvia (Ozolins and Andersone 2001).

7. Karelia
In Finland, wolves occurring in the reindeer herding area fall under Annex V of the Habitats Directive; those outside the reindeer herding area fall under Annex IV. Finland has recently approved a National Management Plan that include removal of some wolves under controlled circumstances. In Russian Karelia, wolves are killed throughout the range and at any time. In spite of the small number of wolves, Finland has approved a plan to maintain the population within the current size (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 2006). Discontinuous flow of dispersing wolves from Russia allow a reasonable but cautiously positive forecast on the conservation of this population.

8. Scandinavia
it is fully protected in Sweden and Norway; however, Norway applies a zoning system that includes culling of wolf numbers in the areas where damages are considered unacceptable. Both Norway and Sweden provide full compensation of damages; Sweden applies a preventive compensation system to reindeer breeders that operate in areas where wolves live.

9. Germany/western Poland
Wolves are protected in both countries, but the extent to which protection is enforced in western Poland is questionable.

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Citation: Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe 2007. Canis lupus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 03 September 2015.
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