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Wolves in Surprising Locations

By: Edwin Wollert / Education Coordinator / Wolf Song of Alaska

Did you know?

That wolves did, and still do, live throughout the Northern Hemisphere?

When people think of wolves and their environments, they typically think of arctic locales, or open tundra, or places largely removed from human interference. And yet, when we examine wolf distribution maps, both past and present, we may be startled to learn that wolves are the most geographically distributed wild mammals!

We indeed have a healthy population here in Alaska (fluctuating annually between roughly 5,000 and 8,000 statewide). And many people already know that Russia and Canada have the world's largest wolf populations (estimated at roughly 90,000 and 60,000, respectively). But who's thought about wolves in China? Or Spain? How about Israel, or Saudi Arabia? All these countries and more have viable wolf populations. Part of the overall question to consider here is not whether wolves can and do live near humans, but whether humans are willing to live near wolves. And in some places throughout the world, there are humans who like having wolves nearby.

The Iberian Peninsula, for example, has seen a marked increase in wolf population; Spain and Portugal together now have an estimated 2,000. Poland reportedly has about 8,000 wolves, the largest European population. Germany and Italy have also seen recent increases. Remember that wolves are extremely adaptable and exceptionally intelligent; they can live just about anywhere. And in all these places, there is a mix of wolf-haters and wolf-educators seeking to inform the local human populace that predators are a healthy and necessary addition to every ecosystem.

And what about those Chinese wolves? Sure enough, China still has at least several hundred, as does the northernmost of the main Japanese islands, Hokkaido. Mongolia, bordering Russia, also has a large population, estimated at 30,000.

Perhaps the biggest surprise will be the region of the Middle East. Israel really does have a few hundred wild wolves left. So does Saudi Arabia, and even Ethiopia. Egypt reportedly is down to just a few dozen, and along with Ethiopia, are the only nations in Africa to contain the species. When they are not being actively exterminated, wolves can thrive; they just need to find food, and being opportunistic and clever hunters, they can manage quite well.