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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Gray wolf, domestic dog. An expert on what reduces the risk of negative interactions between a wolf and a dog

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Human behavior reduces the risk of negative interactions between wolves and dogs. The guardian is a kind of “protective umbrella” for the four-legged friend, said Andżelika Haidt from the Forest Research Institute.

Wolves avoid buildings and are afraid of people. However, sometimes you meet people or their dogs. The presence and behavior of humans reduce the risk of negative interactions between wolves and dogs, according to the analysis of data prepared by Andżelika Haidt and Radosław Gawrys from the Forest Research Institute and Maciej Szewczyk from the University of Gdańsk. The conclusions were published in the journal “Animals”.

Wolves in Poland. The species is under protection

Andżelika Haidt reminds that in Poland the wolf is under strict protection, thanks to which we have one of the most numerous populations in Europe. The abundance data vary depending on the source.

– In Poland, we have a problem with estimating the size of the wolf population, the data depend on the methodology used. For example, according to the Central Statistical Office, in 2018 the state of the population in Poland was estimated at 2,868 individuals. On the other hand, the “Pilot monitoring of wolves and lynxes carried out as part of the State Environmental Monitoring” showed that 1,886 individuals lived in Poland in 2018. This is a big discrepancy. However, the Central Statistical Office, which provides data every year, indicates an increase in the number – she said.

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Wolves in PolandAdam Ziemienowicz / PAP

Wolves. Interaction with people and their dogs

The expert added that wolves in Poland are present in practically all large forest complexes, they also appear near large urban agglomerations, for example in forests near the Tri-City or in the Zielonka Forest near Poznań. As a result of the growing population of this species, predators more and more often visit places of intense recreation of people, where there are also dogs. Sometimes there are aggressive interactions leading to a serious conflict between humans and wildlife.

The researchers collected data on this subject using an online questionnaire. It included questions about factors that may influence the likelihood of interactions between these canines.

– I was looking for people willing to participate in the survey on the Internet, in groups focused on activities with dogs in the field, for example in groups such as “hiking with a dog” or hunting groups. I also reached people who met the wolf while walking the dog outside the Internet. The largest group were people on walks and hunting, but there were also other activities, such as picking mushrooms or dog sledding in the forest, the researcher concluded.

106 cases of encounters with wolves were analyzed on the basis of reports that the scientists considered reliable. Direct contact between the wolf and the dog occurred in 21 percent of the cases. Dogs were injured in eight percent of the cases, and the dog died in three. – Every year there are more such meetings – sums up Andżelika Haidt. In the years 2007-2020, a statistically significant increase in the number of wolf sightings was recorded.

Analysis of the survey data revealed several factors influencing the risk of interaction between a dog and a wolf. One of the most important is the distance between the dog and its handler. The further the dog is from the human, the greater the risk that a wolf encounter will end up in direct contact between the wolf and the dog. The number of wolves was also important – the more wolves, the more courageous they were and the more likely they were to interact with dogs – summed up Andżelika Haidt.

Size also matters. Medium and small dogs are more likely to come into contact with wolves than large dogs. Remember that a large dog can also hurt a wolf, in particular a puppy or a young and inexperienced individual – she emphasized.

Animals protected in PolandMaciej Zieliński / PAP

The risk of meeting a wolf

As the researcher noted, a simple walk with a dog in the forest is seven times safer than hunting with a dog. – Other activities (for example horse riding with a dog or sled sports) turned out to be irrelevant due to the small sample size – explained the co-author of the study.

As she pointed out, the relationship between the risk of direct wolf-dog contact and the distance from the buildings turned out to be very interesting. The risk increases significantly with decreasing distance from human settlements – in other words: the closer to the buildings, the greater the risk that in the event of a wolf encounter, there will be direct contact between the wolf and the dog.

– This observation is interesting and very logical, although at first glance surprising. Because what wolf is inside the buildings? One that is in the process of dispersal is looking for new territory and a partner as he traverses the country. Wolves can travel great distances. By accident, they can be found among buildings or even in the city. Such an animal is terrified. And any animal under extreme stress, feeling trapped, can behave irrational and sometimes aggressive. Especially if there is no escape route, which is easy in built-up areas, among buildings, fences and fences. Not being able to escape, the wolf may be more inclined to come into contact with the dog – explained Andżelika Haidt. And she emphasized that the majority of wolves avoid buildings and are afraid of humans.

On the other hand, Haidt said, shabituated individuals (or simply accustomed) may appear in the vicinity of buildings, differing in their behavior pattern from wolves, which show anthropophobia. Another possible explanation is trespassing the neighborhood for a specific purpose: eliminating dogs that are insufficiently protected against attack. This phenomenon is known wherever there are wolves and is a reason for a conflict with humans, as is the killing of livestock by wolves, e.g. sheep.

– Human choices (control and form of dog care and type of recreation) are an important factor that can reduce the risk of dogs coming into direct contact with wolves, concludes the researcher. – The most important thing is that we can help reduce the conflict: by keeping an eye on the dog. The practical conclusion is that if we keep a dog close to us, nothing should happen to him. Especially from the side of a healthy wolf – noted the expert.

– I’ve been tracking wolves myself for six or seven years, working in the forest with dogs. I keep them on a rope or on a leash and I have never had a dangerous situation with wolves, and sometimes I run into them. I also know other naturalists who work similarly, and dogs are safe with them, said Haidt. – Of course, it may happen that I come across a sick or shabituated individual, but this also applies to other species of animals. I might as well find a wounded boar that will attack – she emphasized.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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