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Grey wolf in woodland habitat. © Uryadnikov Sergey / Adobe Stock

Grey wolf in woodland habitat. © Uryadnikov Sergey / Adobe Stock

Grey wolf

World’s largest wild dog


The grey wolf is the world’s largest canid. Once the most widely distributed terrestrial mammal, these highly intelligent and social animals are still found across much of the northern hemisphere. However, grey wolves remain under severe threat in many parts of their range – especially in Europe.

Wolves have faced centuries of persecution by humans throughout their range, due to deep-rooted superstition and to their fearsome reputation – largely undeserved – as voracious killers of livestock and a danger to people. As a result, grey wolves are today restricted to just two thirds of their original territory and are mainly confined to wilderness or remote areas.

Recent decades have witnessed the beginnings of a turnaround in the fortunes of the grey wolf, with some protective measures being put into place in its last remaining European strongholds. Conservation efforts are focusing on strengthening this protection and promoting peaceful coexistence between local people and wolf packs.

Fascinating facts about the grey wolf

    Top dog

    The grey wolf is the world’s largest wild dog species.

    Grey wolf behaviour. © vaclav / Adobe Stock

    Grey wolf behaviour. © vaclav / Adobe Stock

    Let's stick together

    Grey wolves are monogamous – mating for life and living in tight-knit family groups.

    Warm & dry

    Wolves have two layers of fur – an outer, waterproof coat of coarse hair and a soft undercoat that provides insulation.

    Wolves with houses in the background. © Andres M. Dominguez / Nature Picture Library

    Wolves with houses in the background. © Andres M. Dominguez / Nature Picture Library

    Conflict zone

    In areas of dense human presence and prey scarcity, especially in Eurasia, hunger may drive wolves to feed on livestock or garbage.

Grey wolf family life 

Grey wolves live in packs, with a highly organised social structure including clear distinctions between leaders and followers. Packs are led by an alpha male and female, and only the alpha pair breeds. The average number of cubs in a litter is six. Grey wolves have been known to carry out alloparental care, adopting and raising orphaned cubs.

Wolves communicate by barking, growling and howling, but they also use body language such as baring their teeth or tucking in their tail to assert dominance or display submission. Howls are unique to each wolf, and individuals recognise each other by their calls.

A grey wolf eating a deer. © Szymon Bartosz / Adobe Stock

A grey wolf eating a deer. © Szymon Bartosz / Adobe Stock

A grey wolf feasts on the carcass of a red deer stag.

What do grey wolves eat?

Grey wolves hunt cooperatively as a pack. They are formidable predators and can bring down animals as large as a moose or musk ox, but will also eat a variety of smaller prey, from rodents to rabbits. Grey wolves do not normally attack livestock, but they are opportunistic feeders and will kill and eat unprotected domesticated animals, particularly if hunger has driven them into areas of human habitation.

Why are grey wolves important?

As apex predators, grey wolves are a keystone species. They act as ecosystem engineers, meaning that they help maintain the natural health, structure and balance of the landscape. They keep the large herbivore population in check – particularly deer, which browse on new shoots and prevent trees and other plants from regenerating. This in turn provides food and habitat for insects, birds and smaller herbivores. The remains of their prey provide food for carrion eaters such as eagles, bears and other scavengers. Grey wolves can play a vital role in rewilding projects.

Wolf portrait. © Uryadnikov Sergey / Adobe Stock

Wolf portrait. © Uryadnikov Sergey / Adobe Stock

Senses permanently on red alert, grey wolves are formidable predators.

Where do grey wolves live? 

Subject to the availability of prey, grey wolves can thrive in a wide range of habitats from dense forest to desert and alpine peaks to Arctic tundra. Their range extends widely across the northern hemisphere, from Alaska to Afghanistan, Greenland to Greece and Scandinavia to Siberia. The UK, Ireland and Japan are among the few countries in the northern hemisphere where grey wolves are no longer found.

Wolf running in snow. © Bruno D'Amicis / Nature Picture Library

Wolf running in snow. © Bruno D'Amicis / Nature Picture Library

Grey wolves are well adapted to a variety of habitats, and will pursue prey even across snow-covered terrain.

How many grey wolves are left? 

The grey wolf is categorised as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, meaning that it is not under imminent threat of global extinction. The overall grey wolf population may not be a cause for immediate concern among conservationists, but Europe’s wolves remain under pressure.

According to a 2022 report by Rewilding Europe, grey wolf numbers have increased by 1,800% since the mid 1960s. An estimated 17,000 roam across the continent, with grey wolves now found in almost every country in Europe. Romania harbours roughly 15% of Europe’s entire grey wolf population, in an estimated 2,500-3,000 found in the Carpathian Mountains.

What threats do grey wolves face? 

Grey wolves are powerful predators. Their large size and the protection afforded by their pack lifestyle mean that they have few natural enemies other than humans.

Traditionally the major cause of the grey wolf’s decline has been persecution, partly due to fear and prejudice, and partly in retaliation for loss of livestock. While this remains a threat, other issues caused by rapid human population growth have emerged. Human encroachment on traditional wolf territory is creating conflicts between people and wolves.

Habitat loss

Grey wolves and humans are increasingly competing for space. Urban expansion, agricultural conversion and extractive activities are destroying and degrading traditional grey wolf habitat. Habitat fragmentation, including the loss of natural corridors, reduces the availability of prey and forces wolves to venture into areas of human habitation.

Conflict with humans

Encounters between grey wolves and humans can lead to conflict that may prove fatal for both sides. Grey wolves will prey on vulnerable livestock, which may lead to revenge killings. Wolves are also illegally hunted for their fur in some countries.

How can we help save grey wolves? 

The conservation of the grey wolf is dependent on humanity’s ability to coexist with this species. Fauna & Flora and our in-country partners are taking action to safeguard the grey wolf in some of its last remaining European strongholds.

In Romania, with the support of our partners, we are using strategic land purchase to protect vital wolf habitat and migratory corridors from agricultural intensification and deforestation, in order to ensure that the remaining wolf populations are left in peace.

Fauna & Flora is also working directly with farmers to reduce conflict with grey wolves. By providing electric fences and Carpathian sheepdog puppies, we are helping them to keep wolves at bay and reduce the number of incidences of livestock predation.

Fence construction. © Lizzie Duthie / Fauna & Flora

Fence construction. © Lizzie Duthie / Fauna & Flora

Fauna & Flora is working with Romania's farming communities to reduce the risk of livestock predation.

Forest. © Lizzie Duthie

Saving Europe’s grey wolves 

On this crowded continent, human-wildlife conflict poses a serious threat to the future of grey wolves.

With your help, we can continue to protect these powerful but vulnerable predators.

Donate today

Forest. © Lizzie Duthie