Separating fact from fiction: wolf attacks

Wolves were blamed for the death of a tourist in Greece, but there is little evidence linking them to the attack, says Yorgos Iliopoulos. 

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Separating fact from fiction: wolf attacks

Wolves rarely attack people © Arterra / Getty 

 

What happened?

A woman disappeared close to Maroneia in the north-east of Greece, and she was found 40 hours later partially eaten. Though initially feral or shepherd dogs were said to be responsible, the coroner then said the ferocity of
the attack indicated it must have been wolves.

 

What evidence is there?

Her body had been dismembered and partially eaten, and there were reports that she made phone calls on the day she disappeared saying she’d been attacked by dogs. The currently nearest-known wolf pack to Maroneia is 17km to the east, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others that are closer.

 

Will more other evidence come to light?

Possibly – tissue and hair samples are being examined for DNA traces to see if this tells us more, but even if wolves are found to have been present, that doesn’t prove they were responsible for the attack. We must also consider the circumstances under which the incident took place – only 3km from a village and in daylight in an area with a permanent dog presence. How likely is it that wolves are responsible in this scenario?

 

Do wolves attack people in Greece?

I have found evidence for a couple of non-severe injuries caused by wolves, both originating in attacks on livestock – there was one case where a shepherd was bitten during such an incident. There are also reports of wolves losing their fear of humans where they have found artificial food sources such as open rubbish dumps. An incident dating back to winter 1999 was shown to be post-mortem consumption by shepherd dogs after the person died from cold.

 

Could it have been dogs?

Dogs can certainly attack and kill people. The coroner claimed that wild dogs could not have broken human bones and disarticulated the body in the way it was found, but I do not think scientific evidence supports his conclusion at this stage. 

 

Dr Yorgos Iliopoulos is a wolf biologist and conservationists for Callisto

This article first appeared in the December 2017 issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine

 

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