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Re-introducing wolves to Ireland: could we? Should we?

Centuries ago wolves roamed the wilds of Ireland. In this full-length feature Ireland’s Wildlife contributor Dan Lettice, explores whether or not, one day, they could do so again….

European grey wolf
Could the European grey wolf roam Ireland’s landscapes again? Dan Lettice explores the question (Gunnar Ries [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Wolves in Ireland: the background

The grey wolf, Canis lupis, was once reasonably common in Ireland and existed on all parts of the Island. The last wolf in Ireland was probably killed in or around 1786 but small populations or individual wolves may have existed into the early 1800’s. Before English rule in the country wolves were hunted, mainly by the ruling classes, and plenty of wolf skins were exported to Britain, but there seems to have been no coordinated attempt to exterminate them. During English rule this changed, and people began to view wolves as a troublesome species and targeted them for extermination. During Cromwell’s rule bounties for wolves were initiated and so began the complete removal of the wolf from the Irish landscape.

The wolf itself was once one of the most common land based mammals on the planet, and existed in the whole of the Northern hemisphere and on the Indian subcontinent. Sub species also existed in parts of Africa and South America. As human populations across Europe grew the wolf population suffered. There were many reasons for this, loss of habitat and decline of prey certainly contributed but a building hatred toward the species, mostly based on myth and folklore, resulted in their removal from large parts of Western Europe, with only isolated populations remaining.

As European Settlers set sail for the New World, North American Wolves suffered the same fate. As the settlers moved west across what is now the United States, wolves were steadily hated into extinction in most of the lower 48 States. No other animal suffered the same level of hatred and concentrated effort to exterminate it.

The almost complete destruction of the North American bison herd and the introduction of domestic cattle compounded the hatred and intensified the extermination effort, as wolves increasingly came into conflict with humans. For a much of the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s a large proportion of this extermination was state-sponsored. Finally in the early part of the 20th century most of North America’s wolves had been exterminated. An animal that was once revered and highly respected by Native Americans suffered the same fate as it had in Europe.

Although populations remained healthy in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and parts of Asia, the grey wolf had been removed from almost everywhere it found itself in proximity to people.

Could the wolf be re-introduced to Ireland?
Grey Wolf, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (Dan Lettice)

Fast forward nearly a century to 2015, and talk of re-introducing wolves to Ireland.

I’ve heard plenty of people arguing for re-introduction, or supporting it, but there are many complex issues that need to be considered before a re-introduction could even be considered. Many people consider wolves the epitome of true wilderness. Perhaps a pang of guilt for our role in their destruction makes some of us desperately want them back in our landscape. I would love, in an ideal world, to have wild wolves roam Ireland again, and I’m not alone, but not at any cost.

Potential benefits of wolves

The re-introduction of a top predator, what was perhaps Ireland’s top predator, into an area would have many benefits. Predators affect not just prey species, but the entire balance of an ecosystem right the way down the food chain. This natural phenomenon, known as trophic cascade, impacts everything from the immediate prey species right down to the primary producers in the ecosystem. When wolves were re-introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, for example, elk, which form a large portion of the wolves’ diet in the park, could no longer stay in a feeding area for long periods overgrazing local plant populations. Instead, with wolves to worry about, elk, white tailed deer and mule deer had to be wary, and stay on the move to evade the predators.

We observed this at a distance on a recent visit to Yellowstone. On a faraway hillside a large, strung-out group of elk were feeding in reasonably close proximity to the Junction Butte Wolf pack. Over the course of 5 hours the elk fed on surrounding vegetation, but they were constantly moving and watching the wolves. The wolves kept them ‘honest’ by attempting to take an elk on a few occasions. In the absence of wolves the elk would have continued to overgraze the plant population.

Twenty years after the re-introduction of wolves the trophic cascade effects in Yellowstone are clear. Once over-grazed willows, aspen and other small trees are now thriving. Beavers have re-populated the park to take advantage of this ready supply of food and building material for their dams. Waterfowl, bird, and fish species have moved in to take advantage of the habitats created by the beavers, and so it continues.

From an Irish perspective a re-introduction might result in less tree damage from deer herds which have become over abundant. These deer are the subject of annual culls to control their numbers. In theory, a wolf re-introduction might result in these deer becoming more vigilant, resulting in less damage to our forests in the areas selected. Whether wolves would result in a significant reduction in deer populations is another question. Wolves generally kill weak, sick, young or old deer, and any re-introduction here would likely involve a small, heavily controlled wolf population. In such a scenario a significant reduction of the deer population would be unlikely.

Another potential benefit of wolf re-introduction is a possible eco-tourism opportunity.  Wolf watching, similar to what already exists in Yellowstone, Northern Spain and parts of Scandinavia could potentially contribute significantly to the local economy of re-introduction areas. It may also, selfishly, satisfy our desire to see wolves roam in Ireland once more, bringing a little ‘wild’ back to an Island that in reality has lost most, if not all of its true wilderness.

Reintroduction of wolves: the inevitable down side

Those that argue against a re-introduction on the basis of the ‘danger’ wolves pose to the human population are barking up the wrong tree if you’ll pardon the pun. Research and experience worldwide proves that wolves are no more a danger to humans than any other large wild mammal. Wolf fatalities worldwide in the last century are few and far between. In North America, including Canada, there were no recorded deaths after 1900 until the early part of this century. Two deaths occurred in North America since 2000. One is probable the other one is certain. One was possibly down to wolves that had been habituated to humans through irresponsible feeding.

Despite these incidences you are far far more likely to be killed in North America by a moose, elk, bison, or indeed a domestic dog. The same would apply here, you would be infinitely more likely to be injured by your own or a neighbour’s dog or in the ‘wild’ by something like a large red deer, than you would by a wolf.

As long as wolves aren’t fed by humans (an incredibly stupid and irresponsible practice, resulting in habituation) then they want absolutely nothing to do with us. There have been deaths recorded on the Indian subcontinent but these were down to rabid wolves, a problem we would not have here. In short a re-introduction here would pose no threat to the human population. Wolves are not the demonic killing machines they are depicted to be by some people. They are highly evolved social animals and, similar to humans in the sense that family bonds are so strong, possibly the strongest of all animals, including chimpanzees and gorillas. Family bonds and interactions govern almost everything wolves do.

While the advantages of re-introduction are clear the difficulties associated with such an undertaking on our part, and perhaps more importantly for the wolves, are less clearly understood and rarely discussed.

Wolf populations are recovering in Europe, and wolves now exist in most European countries, Ireland is a different proposition, as is the Britain. Most of the recovery in Europe has been the result of re-population of areas from extant neighbouring populations, rather than the physical re-introduction of animals. Wolves from Italy (which never fully died out) have re-populated parts of France and Switzerland. Wolves from Eastern Europe moved westward and now occupy parts of Germany. In the US some argue that even without a formal re-introduction programme in Yellowstone and Central Idaho wolves were already moving through Alberta in Canada into Montana and Idaho and would have continued the natural expansion of their range. Wolves have also repopulated Oregon, Wisconsin, and Washington State naturally, without re-introduction.

Some reports suggest Ireland, Great Britain, Holland and Denmark are now the only European countries without a wild wolf population, although a dead wolf may have been discovered recently in Holland. Ireland and Britain would require a physical re-introduction of the species, and this presents many more difficulties.

Location, location, location

Glenveigh National Park -- a possible site for wolf re-introduction in Ireland
Glenveigh National Park — a possible site for wolf re-introduction in Ireland (by Michal Osmenda , [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Firstly we need to consider where we would re-introduce them. Our largest National Park, Glenveagh National Park in Donegal is 170 square kilometres in size. To put this into context, Yellowstone National Park is nearly 9,000 square kilometres in size, and Cairngorms National Park in Scotland is over 4,500 square kilometres in size. While a wolf pack can live in a relatively small area given abundant prey, our parks are small and are not buffered by wilderness areas. Using Yellowstone or Cairgorms again as an example they are buffered by wilderness areas outside the park, in particular Yellowstone which is buffered by the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem with many large areas of wild country.

Prey abundance may not be an issue, at least initially, as wolves will eat almost anything, rabbits, hares, deer, carrion, wild goats and sheep (which may exist in Glenveagh) in some cases fish and even mice and rats. Where difficulties may begin to arise is when the wolf population grows, and grow it will. Pack size would increase significantly each year, assuming prey abundance and successful breeding. Wolf packs would inevitably drive some individuals out and some may leave of their own accord. These bigger packs would require more food and need to range further. The individual animals who have left the pack will wander in search of a mate and a territory. This will lead them outside the park and into contact with humans either directly or indirectly through interactions with farm animals.

Wolf / human interaction, perception and persecution

While wolves now exist in Europe in areas where the average human population is 37.5 people per sq KM (Donegal has a population density of 33 people per sq KM), Irish wolves would be wandering into areas where people have no experience of dealing with large predators, and have been led to believe, through myth and fairytale, that wolves are savage killing machines. Wolves kill when they need to feed themselves or their young, and despite what some might have us believe, they do not kill for fun or kill more than what they need. So while they won’t devastate or severely impact anyone’s livestock, they will come into contact with them and occasionally take cattle and sheep.

Even with extensive control of the wolf population (as discussed below), some livestock losses will occur. Our landscape, outside national parks, is heavily farmed, making farm animal encounters and losses almost inevitable. Acceptance of this loss would take a massive change in attitudes by people in the area and would also need the introduction of a program to compensate farmers for their losses.

While we have other nature reserves and protected areas outside our natural parks these are detached from each other and, again, are small. Wildlife corridors, which might allow wolves to pass between reserves and parks, simply do not exist here.

Our only experience of reintroductions are those of the golden eagle in Donegal, white-tailed eagle (WTE) in Kerry and Red Kite to Wicklow. While all of these programmes have successfully led to the first breeding of these birds in the wild in Ireland for a long time, they have not been without difficulties.

The reintroduction of the WTE in Killarney in particular met with a lot of resistance. Some representatives of the farming community protested at the airport as the first chicks arrived from Norway. They protested that the eagles would decimate their sheep herds with one prominent member even raising the issue of the safety of small children when the eagles were re-introduced. There have also been many poisoning and shooting incidences involving all 3 re-introduced species. No prosecutions for any of these wildlife crimes have been taken and like many other countries, Ireland’s record of dealing with wildlife crime is poor. This does not bode well for re-introduced wolves here. While education and communication will convince a lot of people it wont convince them all, and wolves would be a much harder sell given their unjustified reputation, the likelihood they would take some livestock, and the fact they are on terra firma rather than flying above our heads like the eagles.

The difficulties discussed above are significant, as would be the financial commitment. Research would need to be preformed, studies carried out, wolves transported, legislation enacted or reviewed, wolf populations sourced and compensated for, wolf management strategies developed and enacted, and those management strategies continued throughout the program. The ongoing wolf management would require telemetry equipment, wolf collars, periodic flights over the park, education programs, ongoing public consultation and full time personnel to carry it out. Compensation programmes for farmers, as discussed above, could also prove costly.

Never mind “could we” — how about “should we”?

Grey Wolf Norway
European grey wolves in southern Norway (photo AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works
Some rights reserved by Marius K. Eriksen via Flickr)

The difficulties discussed thus far are ecological, physical and financial ones, but what about the moral and ethical ones?

The most important aspect in all this discussion needs to be the welfare of the wolves themselves. Wolves for re-introduction here in Ireland would be sourced from multiple populations to give an initial genetic diversity. More wolves would possibly need to be added later to maintain this genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding, although wolves often disperse to avoid this. Even if the source country or countries agree to this, given our failure to stem poisoning and shooting of our re-introduced raptors, it could apply significant pressure on source populations.

The physical collection of wolves would pose difficulties and is likely to result in some losses. They would be collected by trapping, snaring or incapacitation by dart from a helicopter. All of these methods pose risks. During the collection of animals for the Yellowstone re-introduction programme at least 10 wolves died early in the process through trapping and snaring and at least one died during incapacitation from helicopter. One might argue that techniques have evolved and improved since then, but some losses would almost certainly occur.

Removal of alpha (lead) animals from a pack would cause huge upheaval, and studies show that it would almost certainly lead to the break up of the pack. Packs that may have been in existence for generations could literally be wiped out by the removal of perhaps just one animal. Wolves may also attempt to make their way back to their own territories. Relocation of wolves in Alaska’s Denali National Park has led to them returning hundreds of miles to their previous locations. Obviously wolves introduced in Ireland would be unable to do that, but the instinct to return home could lead them to wander into areas where they will subsequently need to be removed from.

Wolves re-introduced in Ireland would need to be heavily managed, some might say controlled. It’s likely that their locations would need to be monitored daily, and that at several animals in the pack would be burdened with telemetry collars. Wolves may need to be re-captured if they move into areas deemed undesirable, and pups may have to be relocated if adults den outside the national park they are introduced into.

Would such a heavily monitored and managed population really mean we have wild wolves in Ireland again?

The verdict

In my opinion, while the re-introduction of wolves here might have some benefits, both ecologically and psychologically for us, there would be no benefit whatsoever to the wolf, either as a species, or to the individual animals released here. The number reintroduced would, by necessity, be small, extensively managed, and their population artificially controlled. Given the difficulties discussed above in relation to space, and interactions with humans, any such reintroduction would stand a reasonable probability of failing, resulting in the destruction of all of the wolves concerned. It would also have a significant negative impact on source populations.

Re-introduction in Ireland would not result in any increase in the the worldwide wolf population, and would simply be an exercise to satisfy our own selfish needs.

For re-introduction to even be considered in Ireland we would need a massive change in perception, understanding and attitude towards wolves and predators in general. We would need far more extensive wilderness areas, and a well established network of wildlife corridors to connect them. Wolves haven’t roamed free in Ireland for at least 200 years, and personally I don’t think they will be doing so again any time soon.

These are my own views on wolf re-introduction in Ireland, and I welcome debate about the subject via comments here or at [email protected].


  • Wolves, Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation, L.David Mech and Luigi Boitani
  • Among Wolves, Gordon Haber and Marybeth Holleman
  • Wolves in Ireland, Kieran Hickey
  • Wolf Wars, Hank Fischer
  • Decade of the Wolf, Douglas W. Smith and Gary Ferguson
  • Shadow Mountain, Renee Askins
  • A Wolf Called Romeo, Nick Jans
  • In the Temple of Wolves, Rick Lamplugh
  • Recovery of large carnivores in Europes’s modern human dominated landscapes.




  • Im dutch and since aprox 2018 there are a few packs of wolves in Holland.
    They came from Germany. They found homes in forests and do good ! They chase deers, and deers eat seeds.
    So the seeds are spread better now and heather and spaces remain opener.

    Backside is: they attack sheep, chickens (mostly hobby farmers) and these farmers have to wait for their money sometimes. Because the sheep dont run (cant escape) the wolves just kill to kill.
    So better fences and not too many wolves then they should add to the ecosytem

  • Look, wolf reitrodution would hugely benefit the environment. You said there were too much red deer? Wolves would help that. And as long as the wolves know their boundaries and we know ours, it should be fine. The radio collars idea would be a good one, too. Track down where the wolves are going, and make sure they don’t wander into the heavily populated areas of Ireland. As for the attacks on livestock, build a bigger fence around the livestock. And of everyone is scared of wolves because of myths and folklore, try to get a zoologist to being a single wolf to Ireland to teach everyone that wolves aren’t all that bad. As long as you don’t mess with them, the won’t mess with you.

    • Dan Lettice

      Education is the key. Wolves have a very bad rap, unjustifiably. This needs to and can be changed through education.

      Wolves in an Irish context just isn’t going to work at the moment (in my opinion) for the various reasons set out in the article.

      To address the other issues you raise.

      The deer population is unknown although evidence would suggest an overpopulation.

      Wolves are wild animals, they don’t do boundaries. They go where they find their prey and don’t respect national park boundaries. Building fences around livestock isn’t an option or even needed. As Steve outlines, its very expensive for one thing. Non-lethal measures, including guard dogs, nighttime light deterrents and fladry have been proven to be just as effective.

      I agree with Steve, our time would be far better spent persuading people in countries like Norway and Sweden (to take just two examples) to learn to live with wolves and let them roam and go about their business in the huge areas of wilderness they possess rather than try to re-introduce them into very small areas with a very small chance of success (in my opinion). If the chances of success were higher it would be worth a shot but realistically there not, for the moment anyway

      • Dan I very much enjoyed the article and agree with the conclusions. My opinion is wolf introduction would be a vanity project while being of no benefit to European wolves as a species or as individuals. Ireland simply does not have suitable habitat to support a population of wolves. Three problems of habitat deficiency to consider; isolation, land ownership structure and climate.
        we speak about wild places in Ireland we talk about the mountains and bog lands of connemara or donegal, but go hillwalking there and we find we are never really more than a days walk from someone’s home or farmstead. Furthermore very little of the Irish countryside is state owned compared to other European countries and certainly compared to Canada and the USA, limiting how such a project could be run.lastly,Given the choice wolves would not choose the west of Ireland as habitat The better farming country which is alongside forestry such as wicklow or the sleive blooms on the laois offaly border would be more desirable to wolves, rainfall in both places is lower than the west of ireland, there are much more deer than the west of Ireland and much more domestic livestock, both wicklow and the sleive blooms have sheep country, more woods and hedges and forest and cover. Look at the breeds of small sheep in connemara and donegal 50kg as adults having a tough time the few deer are also hard pressed as they are in far from optimum conditions exposure and starvation are issues for deer numbers in the mountains. Look then to the explosion in deer numbers in wicklow and the Midlands. Botanically much of the uplands in the west are more akin to much higher elevations, there is slim pickings out west!
        What then? Do we fence in somewhere like glenveagh? If not an actual fence then virtually. We would have to have culls to prevent a growing population spilling out of the park, would we have to hunt down straying individuals? What about suplimentary feeding? Would the project become j a game park? A zoo?
        The great hope for wolves in Europe is slow recolonisation of suitable habitat happening naturally. Its already underway we just need to let it happen by creating habitat.

    • Steve Brook

      “as long as wolves know their boundaries” – Wolves know no boundaries save those lethally imposed by man or the proximity of other wolf packs.

      “..make sure they don’t wander into the heavily populated areas..” – How do you do that other than by killing the wolf, as is done in Yellowstone? Once a wolf has wandered, there is no second chance, the policy is to permanently remove the wolf so that it can not do that again.

      “ a bigger fence around the livestock” – A full grown male wolf has been shown to be able to jump 10 feet from standing, hence the height of wolf fencing is around 13 feet with an incline at the top of the fence pointing towards the wolf approach. The fence also has to go into the ground and is reinforced with mild steel concrete reinforcing mesh that needs to go down at least 2-3 feet. Even with that, we had one female who dug a Den during the mating season close to the fence, which on investigation extended approximately 6 feet beyond the fence line. Fortunately she had not thought to build in a back door or she would have been out. All trees within around 6 feet of the fencing must be removed, wolves can climb trees. In the late 1990’s / early 2000’s it cost us around £50,000 to fence each 2 acre area. The cost today will be around 4-5 times that. Who do you think will pay for that, the farmers? I think not.

      Education to dispel the myths and folklore is very important, and exactly what the Wolf Trust I worked for does. But, let’s concentrate on educating the people in Norway and Finland where there are vast tracts of uninhabited land and forest where the wolves could be left in peace.

  • Whatever happened to thus idea? I understand that it would be a small family group due to space limitation. People should remember though, often these decisions result in surrounding land slowly being purchased up to extend territory. It would be just one other interesting impact to watch unfold. I think it’s a great idea.

    • Unfortunately peoples ideas about wildlife are formed due to attachment to family pets, selectively bred over centuries, and Disney movies. In a refuge for injured wolves and wolf dogs, I have had the privilage of having my face licked by a huge softey wolf and allowed in a couple of other enclosures but mainly no way, even the hand that feeds gets attacked.
      Folklore is not myth and there is no doubt that most is based on historic truth until hunting and firearms changed the balance. Certain dog breeds kill people every year, so will a wolf if it has no convenient alternative food.

      • Dan Lettice

        Taking North America as an example dogs (of all breeds) kill and injure lots of people every year, wolves do not. One confirmed death and one suspected in the last 100 years or so. One of those was connected to wolves who associated humans with food. Most reported non fatal attacks (rare) have been short cases of mistaken identity. Wolves have zero interest in humans as a general rule, for various reasons. They do not want to be near humans, and they do not consider them as food. The danger comes when they associate humans with food.
        I’d suggest contrary to your argument, that movies and inaccurate scaremongering has misinformed the majority of peoples on wolves, they do not pose a serious risk to humans.
        And are we to be surprised that a wolf, a wild predator, be it in a refuge or in the wild will display predatory/aggressive behavior toward a human it associates with food? Hardly a shock!

  • As a passionate wildlife lover, and having grown up with wolves in my backyard I would like to put two things straight first in an area where wolves exist theyroam in vast territories often up to 100 sq km or so, and will sometimes take down sheep, goats and an odd cow! People in traditional wolf areas know this and understand this as a write off built into their profit margins. They also have practices which minimise such loss, can’t see the Irish farmer doing that!
    I think attacks on humans is more imagined than real- wolves in proximity of villages and settlements do frequently ( more often than we realise) come in contact with small children who they leave alone – so such scaremongering is more a product of human mind and some incredibly irresponsible foolish individuals who try to artificially change expectations and behaviour of a wild animal.
    In balance I think wolves will be a major looser if introduced to Ireland


    Perhaps some wolves from BC Canada would be of use? They are about to be culled…

  • I have occasionally seen wolves in the wild and even been licked by a good natured wolf in a sanctuary for captured and injured animals but most are not like and typically bite the hand that feeds them; as shown by the damaged fingers of the lady who ran the refuge.
    Despite efforts to play down the danger wolves have had a long history of killing and eating people. Why has this threat been reduced? Simple, it is the same as the tigers in India; where heavily hunted in the past, generations later, attacks are rare but in non hunted areas people are fare game. The reasons are not clear but possibly bolder animals are killed and only the cautious reproduce or some sort of learning is passed through generations.
    If you reintroduce wolves you are not going to shoot them but farmers might. However I suggest that game wardens target every wolf they see with rubber bullets to build the fear of humans they need to survive with minimal conflict. Please leave them alone besides that, no trapping, collars and satellite tracking on the public purse. Just pay for dead livestock: which is much cheaper than feeding naturalists.

    • Steve Brook

      “Despite efforts to play down the danger wolves have had a long history of killing and eating people.” Would you care to back that up with some verifiable data? Preferably not a page on Wikipedia but some peer reviewed scientific data, because you simply will not find it. Even the most recent documented case is still under dispute as to whether it was a wolf or a bear. Yes a wolf can be dangerous if cornered and attacked. Mostly a wolf will run away

      • The most recent case (in North America in any case) occurred in 2010, and the wolves were positively identified. The full report can be seen by searching for Butler, L.; Dale, B.; Beckmen, K. and Farley, S. (2011). “Findings Related to the March 2010 Fatal Wolf Attack near Chignik Lake, Alaska”. Wildlife Special Publication, ADF&G/DWC/WSP-2011-2. Palmer, Alaska.

  • Tonie Walsh

    Smartly argued essay.
    Thank you for making us rethink our aspiration for wolf re-introduction. If anything, you’ve made me long for our government and state agencies to turn over more land to “wilderness” or even a cultivated form of it, not unlike what they have in the Netherlands.

  • Is there plans to reintroduce wolves in Wicklow national park, I read they intend on starting in 2016.

    • A

      No Andy… check out the date on the post you shared in your comment from — it’s an 01 April post intended as an April Fool prank.

  • Argee wolves not being reintroduced to Wicklow national park?

  • I hear a lot of fear speaking around the wolves who gave ous the right to kill / slaughter them in the first place ?
    It is the farmers who are so afraid to loose money on dead livestock mostly , but what about the porr animals that are more or less non exsisting becourse of hman interfearence and greed ? It is on time that we restore insted of keep taking from the nature .

  • Steve brook

    Where wolves live, they are part of the environment.

    Ergo, if it does not benefit the wolves, it does not benefit the environment. Managing parts of the environment to the detriment of other parts is what has brought us to the situations we have today

  • Well u should as long as none get killed

  • Have you read this book? The wolf reintroduction is discussed as a case of success :

  • Dan Lettice

    To address a number of issues and feedback raised here see below. I re-iterate these are my own views and I welcome debate and feedback

    Frankie Sikes, you say you are ‘struggling with this idea that there would be no benefit to wolves in their being reintroduced. That seems like a very strange statement’.

    On the contrary Frankie I believe it’s a very valid statement. For the many reasons outlined above I believe a reintroduction at this time would be very likely to fail. I believe it would cause significant problems for source populations and could be the cause of pack break ups and destruction. I believe only a very small amount of animals would be re-introduced here if a program went ahead. We do not have the room for large numbers to be introduced or for numbers to be allowed to increase significantly. For these reasons I believe a re-introduction, at this time, to be of no benefit to the wolf, either individually or as a species. I don’t want to see wolves removed from source packs and released here unless there is a significant change in attitudes and a reasonable chance of the reintroduction succeeding.

    Shah, to address some of your points

    ‘Canis lupus has never occurred in South America’

    I don’t think I said it did. I only referred to Canis Lupus in Ireland. I did say the wolf occurred in South America. I believe the Dire Wolf, Canis Dirus, did occur in South America. The maned wolf also occurs there presently but I accept this is a distant relative.

    ‘While certainly a social animal, the grey wolf certainly doesn’t have the “strongest social bonds”, even amongst the Canidae. For examples of even greater sociability, see the African wild dog or the dhole. Wolves regularly disperse from their packs and hunt alone, whereas such a behaviour is very rare in the latter two species’

    I referred that their family bonds were some of the strongest of all animals and I stand by this. George Habers decade long studies in Denali National Park led him to conclude “the Wolf isn’t just one animal. It usually can’t survive for long alone. It is ten or twenty animals-typically an extended family-all acting as one in order to survive”

    Their complex social bonds governs their hunting, the care of their young, their movements and their reaction to loss of pack members and in particular higher ranking animals. Haber also concluded that in some cases it took several generations of the same pack to develop ‘traditions’…be they hunting , traveling or other daily tasks. Im not suggesting this is exclusive to wolves but I stand by my point that their family bonds are some of the strongest in the animal world. Wolves regularly disperse (taking out the ones that hunt alone for periods and return, remaining part of the pack) but they can return to their packs also. Young male gorillas (blackbacks) disperse from their families too, Chimpanzees kill close relatives and group members but we would generally accept those family bonds to be up their with the very strongest in the animal world too.
    And while some biologists wouldn’t use it as an example the wild wolf ‘Romeo’ who took up semi permanent residence near the Alaskan city of Juneau in an apparent attempt to interact with both domestic canines and indeed humans points to the wolf’s ability for interspecies interactions

    You also talk about surplus killing.

    Most of the wolf experts/biologists I spoke to say this isn’t a common occurrence. They referred to instances where the wolves took a number of animals…certainly more than they could eat in one or even many sittings but they did return, sometimes significantly later, to consume the ‘surplus’. I wouldn’t call this killing more than what they needed.
    They did refer to isolated instances where wolves did take many more animals than they needed. These were almost always in situations where the prey animal was fenced in and could not escape, farm animals. But one could argue that left alone the wolves would return and simple consume the excess as they needed it. I was more getting at the perception that wolves kill for fun and maraud around like some sort of group of savages. This perception is certainly out there.

    Also the issue of rabid wolves in India.

    When you group rabid attacks and wolves who attack having become habituated to humans through feeding or food assocation then this accounts for a decent proportion of attacks. I was attempting to establish that this wouldn’t be an issue here, I should have chosen my words differently There are plenty of other places in the world where wolves live in reasonably close proximity to human and there are no such problems.

    And finally Shah you refer to my ‘heart being in the right place’. In the case of possible reintroduction of the wolf to Ireland I would hope its my head and not my heart rules, and the same goes for the biologists who may be tasked with making the decision.

  • Dan, as a fellow reintroduction proponent, I just want to say that I think your heart is in the right place, and your presentation of the possible negative effects of reintroduction is highly commendable, but there are issues in some points you make. You state that wolves don’t kill more than they need, despite the fact that so-called “surplus killing” is well documented in wolves by trained biologists. Furthermore, you mention that wolf attacks in India were due to rabid animals, despite the fact that a large number of them involved wolves working in packs and eating their victims, which is something rabid animals do not do.

    The rest of the issues are minor in the context of the article, but I think worth pointing out:

    * Canis lupus has never occurred in South America.
    * While certainly a social animal, the grey wolf certainly doesn’t have the “strongest social bonds”, even amongst the Canidae. For examples of even greater sociability, see the African wild dog or the dhole. Wolves regularly disperse from their packs and hunt alone, whereas such a behaviour is very rare in the latter two species.


    • Steve brook

      Re Surplus killing,

      Are you referring to the studies on White Tailed Deer carried out by David Mech et al? Or the studies by Norway and Sweden?
      Surplus Killing is atypical in wolves, where it is more common in other opportunist predator species.

      Mechs and others studies in Minnesota limited the surplus killing to the winter of 1995-1996, the reason for which they suggested may be the severity of the winter and the condition (nutritional value) of the prey species during harsh conditions.

      The Scandinavian study suggested ” the surplus killing by small packs is a result of an optimal foraging strategy to consume only the most nutritious parts of easy accessible prey while avoiding the risk of being detected by humans. ”

  • The fox is also a predator here. By no means as large as the wolf, but takes its own share of livestock etc, and it is not controlled or tracked.. Maybe a poor comparison but it survives here in large numbers quite well and in close proximity to people. While not a pack animal should the wolf be reintroduced I assume it would prove to be quite adaptable, and as they are a very clever animal I think you d find that instinct will keep them in mountainous areas, the only major conflict I could see would be with coiltte and there tree felling operations which could uproot a den or disturd them in a manner which they find threatening

  • If you have enough wilderness for red deer you have enough for wolves.

  • Noel French

    I would love to see wolves re-introduced – they woudl change the eco-system but I am forced to agree with Dan that we simply do not have enough wilderness for them. Many myths and stories tell of wolves and werewolves so they really were important in human life.

  • Steve Brook

    As someone who has worked with captive wolves in the UK and for the conservation of their wild cousins in other countries, I would agree with your verdict and emphasise the first sentence…there would be NO benefit to the Wolf. I would also suggest that this also applies to the rest of Britain. Re-introduction to already overpopulated islands just will not work for the wolf. Better to concentrate on the protection of its current habitat and work for re-introduction into lands such as Finland where they have vast unpopulated forest areas but seem vehemently opposed to the wolves attempts at recolonisation. European Lynx on the other hand may be an option?

    Steve Brook

    • David Mcloughlin

      I think wolves should be reintroduced to ireland and other areas where it was once native but first we should put time into restoring our forested areas before reintroducing it .only then will it have a fighting chance

  • The western European country with the biggest wolf population is Spain and they are thriving there despite their proximity to people. Culls happen in some provinces and many are killed illegally but they still continue to survive and prosper

    I am struggling with this idea that there would be no benefit to wolves in their being reintroduced. That seems like a very strange statement.

    • They are thriving in Spain despite strong oposition by farmers and politicians in northern regions. In southern Spain (Andalusia), only one or two packs existed until recently, now probably extinct.

  • YES…Then I would come to see what a great and smart thing my Irish ancestors have done ~

  • Great article. Would Beavers be practical to reintroduce. Everyone loves those little fellas.

  • Kevin McNamara

    Its an intriguing suggestion and perhaps a small family group could be managed in Glenveagh, I for one you would like to se it.
    Unfortunately some members but not all of the farming would use their scare tactics as they did in the Kerry WTE introductions – as you righty say babies being carried away etc. Politicians and local prominent people should now better.
    You look at the numbers of tourists now visiting Mountshannon to see these birds. To my knowledge no sheep or children have been killed and eaten. People would pay good money to see these animals so after public consultation and pack management safeguards implemented. Why not give it a try.
    As much as I would like to see it frankly I don’t think it’ll be in the near future.
    What about reintroducing The European Beaver into Glenveagh, these magnificent animals who once native, as unfortunately and depressingly as is common drove into extinguishion by man.

  • Anthony O'Reilly


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