Large predators are feared because they’re so efficient at killing. Humans think they’re the apex of the food chain, but even in today’s tame world there are still man-eaters. When you think of things that stalk and kill our fellow man, the biggest dangers that come to mind are sharks and lions. After the Japanese sunk USS Indianapolis during WWII, sharks ate hundreds of the surviving sailors. On land, one of the more famous man-eaters was a pair of lions in Africa, the Tsavo man-eaters, who killed dozens of people working on a train in Kenya.
Yet wolves can be man-eaters, too. They are a surprise killer, as we can relate to wolves. Sharks are almost alien creatures of the watery deep. Lions have manes and a roar that announces their thirst for blood. Wolves, though, have families, work as a team, and even hunt together. When they kill us it almost seems like a betrayal, as they look so much like man’s best friend, the cute and friendly dog. Lucky for us, as a rule wolves usually shy away from hunting people. But for every rule, there are exceptions.
10. In the Carnage of WWI, Wolves Thrive
In 1914, during the first winter of World War I, reports of starving wolves eating dead soldiers started to reach America. As the fighting went on, month after month things only got worse. By the end of 1916 and into 1917, the First World War was in its third icy cold winter. In the east, the Germans and Russians faced off over a front line that stretched from the northern Baltic Sea to the Black Sea in the south. At this point in the war the Russian army was mainly just trying to hold its ground against the Central Powers. Along with the suffering of man, the ongoing war had a devastating effect on nature. Already, the war had almost wiped out the last vestige of the European buffalo. Wolves living in the war zone were also threatened until they found a new food source: man.
At first, isolated soldiers just disappeared into the night, but in the Vilnius-Minsk region huge packs of wolves started attacking entire squads of Russian and German soldiers. Modern weapons were no help as masses of wolves rushed their prey before the soldiers could defend themselves. It got to be such a problem that the two armies, who had been at each other’s throats for almost three years, declared a truce. The regional officers met and then worked together, arranging hunting parties to wipe out the wolven menace. Over the winter, hundreds of wolves were killed, eliminating their threat and allowing the Russian and Germans to get back to their real goal – killing each other.
9. Italian Wolves Take Advantage of an Earthquake
In January of 1915, Italy sat on the sidelines of World War I. They were waiting to see who – either the Germans or Allies – would offer the best deal to join the conflict. While Italy was playing each side against the other, the Avezzano earthquake hit the central region with a 6.7 magnitude disaster. The mountainous area had villages full of stone houses flattened and already precarious land routes were destroyed, cutting off any relief. Around 30,000 people were killed outright in the quake, crushed under their own homes. Often whole families buried under rubble with no one left to dig them out. Icy winter conditions made everything worse.
On top of this natural disaster, huge packs of starving dogs learned to eat the meat of their former masters. To make matters worse, packs of wolves started to come down to join the feast, uncovering bodies and hunting down any survivors. Rescue teams had to have armed escorts to fend off the raiding wolf packs. Even automobiles bringing aid to the earthquake survivors were followed and attacked. Hunting parties had to be arranged to exterminate the wolves and feral dogs that roamed the area.
8. Courtaud and his Parisian Wolfpack
In 15th century France, the winter of 1450 was particularly hard on everyone, including the wolves that lived in the forested areas surrounding Paris. With a lack of natural prey the starving wolves started to first attack livestock, and then humans themselves. Although the city itself was fortified against foreign invaders, the walls were in a state of crumbling disrepair. One wolfpack – now with a taste for human flesh – started to enter the city of Paris through breaches in the city’s walls. Residents named the leader of the pack “Courtaud” and watched in horror as Courtaud and his clan killed more than 40 city dwellers, sending Paris into a panic.
Finally the people organized and were able to lure the man-eating wolves to the center of the city. There, near the Notre Dame Cathedral, they attacked, stoning Courtaud and his wolves to death. Over the years there were a few more wolf attacks around the city, but by the 1800s wolves had been wiped out around Paris, and by the 1920s wolves had been eliminated from the whole state of France. Then, 200 years later, they returned. In 2014, two wolves were seen 40 miles from the French capital but luckily for the Parisians they didn’t avenge Courtaud.
7. Wolves of the ’80s Haunt an Indian Village
In the ’80s, many of the people of India lived as they had for centuries. In the town of Hazaribagh, meat waste from the butcher was simply unloaded into the town dump. One curious wolfpack came across this supply of free and easy food and developed a taste for the discard at the dump. Soon, the wolves had moved from butcher offal to the corpses of the recently deceased. Perhaps bored of rotten meat, on February 15, 1981 the wolves attacked a child in his backyard.
Luckily the child put up a fight and neighbors quickly ran to the scene, saving the boy. They also beat the attacking wolf to death. Logic would dictate that the wolves would abandon this dangerous prey but the animals were addicted to the taste, and over the next few months 13 children were killed, and another 13 mauled. Over a period of six months the wolves were hunted down one by one, and finally the last of them, thought to be the alpha male leader, was cornered and shot.
6. A Tame Wolf is No Friend of Humans
In the early 1800s Gysinge, Sweden an abandoned wolf pup was hand raised for several years before returning to its wild roots in rural Sweden. Unlike its wild counterparts, it had familiarity with humans and it wasn’t afraid of what turns out to be a slow and easy prey.
No one knows why the wolf turned, but for three months, starting at the first attack on December 30, 1820, there was a wolven reign of terror. In all, 31 people were attacked, and of those 12 were killed before hunters were able to kill the lone wolf on March 27, 1821.
5. While the Soviets Fight the Nazis, Wolves Attack
In the 1930s, the Kirov Oblast of the USSR had about 200 wolf packs that fed on wild animals and sometimes the herds of local Russians. This was the normal balance of things, as hunters kept the wolves in check. This delicate balance was thrown into disarray during WWII when Hitler’s blitzkrieg smashed through Soviet’s European armies and brought the communist state to its knees. Hunters were drafted into the war and local weapons were requisitioned to fight the invading Germans. In addition to a lack of hunters, cattle herds were thinned out, as more and more animals were needed to feed the Red Army. Without predators, and as food diminished, wolves started to move into the urban areas of Kirov.
In September of 1944 wolves started to attack children. The first fatality was 13-year-old Valentina Starikova, who was killed by wolves on September 21. It took the next few years to eliminate the threat of wolf attacks. Hundreds of wolves were killed when the hunters returned from the war, but even they were not enough. Specialists from other parts of the country had to be brought in to bring the man-eating wolf packs under control.
4. Finnish, Man-Eating Wolves of Turku
In Turku, Finland wolves had lived in the forests around the town for years with no trouble, but in 1880 a small pack of three wolves expanded its territory and came in contact with the Finnish townsfolk. The first victim was the son of Karl William, a local tailor, on January 15, 1880. To the horror of Turku this wasn’t a onetime occurrence, and over the next two years, 22 children were killed.
This so alarmed the populace that the local authorities brought in soldiers and hired professional hunters from Russia to deal with the menace. Finally, in January of 1882, the last of the trio was killed. One of dogs was stuffed and mounted to display in St. Olof’s School, while another can still be seen in the hunting museum of Riihimäki.
3. Modern Russian Town Attacked by Hundreds of Wolves
For centuries, Siberia has been an unforgiving place where only the strongest survive. Isolated, cold, and vast, Siberia has long been the dumping grounds for political rebels, first by the Czars and then later by the Soviets and their infamous gulag prison system. Siberia is still remote, but people are proud of the fact that they can survive in isolation, fending for themselves. Yet in eastern Siberia’s Sakha Republic, an area larger than Argentina, residents became alarmed when wolf attacks soared.
In January of 2012 a “super pack” of 400 wolves laid siege to the town of Verkhoyansk until the government sent in men to drive off the wolven army. Normally the wolves feed off the huge amounts of rabbits that inhabited the area. But that winter a rabbit die off and especially cold weather seemed to be the reason behind this startling behavior. It got so bad that in 2013 the head of the Sakha Republic, Yegor Borisov, declared war on the wolves and organized a giant cull of the wolf packs, finally bringing the situation under control.
2. Ben Cochrum is Liam Neeson
Ben Cochrum was a Canadian trapper that spent his time in the bush, working one of the most traditional Canadian jobs, trapping and trading in furs. In April of 1922, while trapping north of Fisher River on Lake Winnipeg, Cochrum came across a large pack of wolves. North American wolves are notoriously shy and usually avoid humans but for some reason Cochrum and the wolfpack engaged in a battle to the death (not unlike Liam Neeson’s character in the movie The Grey).
With his rifle he was able to shoot down seven of the timberwolves, and another four were clubbed to death. Yet the remaining members of the pack were able to overcome Ben Cochrum and the remains of his body were scattered among the bodies of the eleven wolves he was able to kill.
1. Chernobyl Wolves Battle Radiation
This one isn’t man versus wolf, really, but instead, it’s wolf versus…well, the header should give that away. On April 26, 1986 a series of mishaps caused a huge explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Pripyat, Ukraine. At the time, Ukraine was then officially the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. A plume of radiation rose from the reactor, blanketing the surrounding area, and the world, with nuclear fallout. This hot zone left much of the area around Chernobyl as a no-go zone to people. Yet in this absence of humans, wildlife thrived. At the apex of this unique ecosystem are the radioactive wolf packs of Chernobyl. In the irradiated zone, the wolves battle radiation their whole lives. Tests of their bones indicate that the radioactivity is so high that the carcasses need to be handled as nuclear waste.
To study them, the use of special radiation suits is required. In this uninhabited zone, most of the wildlife lives at about the same level as wildlife in similar, surrounding uncontaminated zones, but not the wolf. In the Chernobyl Nuclear exclusion zone, there are seven times more wolves than there are in nearby nature reserves untouched by Chernobyl’s fallout, and scientists can’t agree why there are so many more wolves in the contaminated zones.
Yosomono writes for multiple sites including GaijinAss.com.