Visits of wolves in human settlements in Belarus with implication for wolf attacks of dogs

In Belarus, our study on the question of visiting of wolves in human settlements suggests that it regularly happens if wolves are present in surroundings of a human settlement.  That was common of what we faced frequently, by doing our study on wolves in the countryside of Belarus long-term during several decades. While inspecting frequently several model human settlements in 2006-2008 in Naliboki Forest and its surroundings, we registered that very small human settlements such as homesteads and hamlets, where only a few people live, were visited by wolves every 1-9 days, on average every 5 days; whereas villages with many inhabitants were visited by wolves less often every 4-21 days, on average every 8 days. During such visits, small human settlements (having approximately up to 40 inhabitants) were usually crossed by wolves along one of the streets, while villages were mainly inspected by wolves at their boundaries or slightly entering in the village.  All these visits of human settlements by wolves happened at nights.  Only remote single houses were sometimes visited by wolves in the daytime. As to seasonality, wolves come to human settlements year-round, but markedly less in the denning period (May-July) and more frequently during winter particularly from the mid-January till the mid-March.

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Having several hundreds  (more than 200) of registrations of visits by wolves in human settlements,  doing snowtracking of them there, we did not reveal any victim among livestock, except dogs, that were killed by wolves; and we did not even find any real tries of depredation on cattle in human settlements for those more than two hundreds cases investigated by us.  Here it is worthwhile to notice that in Belarus people keep few sheep, perhaps, by avoiding predation risk from wolf’s side. They keep cows that actually may attack and even kill a wolf that appears in a close proximity.  For instance, a few years ago in Naliboki Forest (central-western Belarus) six cows trampled a lactating female wolf, which would like to tear off an udder from one of the cows.

Of course, we have heard and investigated the cases that sometimes wolves depredate sheep, pigs, cow calves and even adult cows and horses. Nevertheless, just during our plenty of inspections of human settlements, which were in a proximity to wolves, and among several hundreds of our registrations of visits by wolves of human settlements, only dogs were attacked and killed.  Usually, there was one or several dogs killed per every ten or a bit more visits of wolves in human settlements.

So, from the above-presented materials it is evident that depredation on non-dog livestock happens rarely in Belarus. At the same time, many revealed cases of wolf’s aggression to dogs (dog carcasses or some dog’s remnants that were found, snowtracking of wolves in human settlements etc.) suggest that wolves are mainly interested in dogs while visiting human settlements.

Here it is essential to notice that in the countryside in Belarus dogs are common to be free-ranging out of the owner yards walking on streets, visiting rubbish dumps and even surrounding forest. This undoubtedly amplifies aggression of wolves towards dogs and, in turn, it leads to the higher number of dogs to be killed by wolves. In densely forested areas like Naliboki Forest or Paazierre Forest up to a third of dogs (usually 15-20%) is killed by wolves annually. This dog’s mortality differs a lot between the categories of dogs that are free-ranging often and well-kept dogs when the owners take care of their safety. This difference is higher than 20 fold, i.e. per one well-kept dog killed by wolves, there were more than 20 dogs that were frequently free-ranging.

We did not find any significant difference of wolf’s aggression towards dogs that might be determined by either food supply for wolves or wolf population density, but it strongly depended on the number of semi-abandoned hamlets and villages in habitats of wolves. Let’s say the decline in the countryside life conditions frequent wolf’s attacks towards dogs, whereas in well-established villages it is a rare event.

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Wolves hunted dogs of both that were free-ranging in human settlements and their surroundings as well as on owner yards even ones fixed on leashes.  We know 7 such a cases when wolves killed dogs being on a leash.  These cases comprised less than 1% of the revealed cases of dogs that were killed by wolves.

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While learning the attitudes towards dogs of more than 210 wolf packs, it was clearly noticed a marked difference in that. The most horrible thing when wolves deliberately hunt on dogs, but the portion of such wolves is rather low (about 2%). Since the early 1990s there were traced only five wolf packs, which deliberately frequently hunted on dogs at human settlements and inside of them.  These packs consumed the killed dogs entirely, leaving only a few bone remains.

Concerning these dog-aggressive  five wolf packs, the statistics was as follows:

(1) 5 wolves pack, no pups of the year, all big wolves,  there were killed at least 12 dogs during January-February in the western part of Naliboki  Forest, preystock for wolves was at a moderate level;

(2) 3 wolves pack, no pups of the year, all big wolves, there were killed at least 17 (plausibly 24) dogs during the mid till early March in the south-eastern part of Naliboki  Forest, preystock for wolves was rich;

(3) 2 adult wolves,  there were killed at least 19 dogs from late November till the end of January in the central-western part of Naliboki  Forest, preystock for wolves was rich, the last days of January the wolves were killed by hunters;

(4) 7 wolves pack, two pups of the year,  there were killed at least 23 dogs during January till the mid-March in the eastern part of Paazierre  Forest, preystock for wolves was poor;

(5) 4 wolves pack, there was a litter of 4-6 pups, there were killed at least 26 dogs during August-early November in the western part of Paazierre Forest, preystock for wolves was poor, the mid-November the wolves were killed by hunters.

So,  with the respect of the question, the first rather rarer category of wolves is deliberate hunters on dogs. From the cases described above, it is evident that such dog-hunting wolves may appear in any situation of food base for wolves.

The second category of wolves is not a frequent killer of dogs due to their lower aggression towards dogs or presence of only a few dogs in a proximity.  However, those wolves visited human settlements not rarely, too. Snowtracking indicated that they walked there, were interested in dogs and nothing more.  In Belarus 60-70% of wolf packs were like that.

The third category of wolves within the question is something between the two above-described categories.  They visit in human settlements more or less often, but kill not so many dogs as the first category of wolves, but not so rare as the second one. The second and third wolf categories mostly did not eat the killed dogs or took a part of them after killing and then forgot about the kills.

In conclusion, by taking into account the well-known phenomenon of wolf-dog hybridization, I think that there is a dualism in the wolf attitude towards dogs. The first attitude is a dog as a relatively easy prey.  Another aspect of the wolf-dog relationship is that wolves evaluate dogs as individuals of the same species on their territory, weaker ones that are not risky to kill. However, in wolf mating season, when in a rarefied wolf population adult wolves are pressed for mates, dogs may possible mates.

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