Questions for Andrea Strauss

Photo of StraussDurring April, 2005, Andrea Strauss answered questions about wolves and how they can co-exist with humans. Learn more about Andrea Strauss' work with wolves.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Joe's picture
Joe says:

Hey Andrea. What do you think of the US Fish and Wildlife Service's plan to remove the wolf from the list of endangered species?

posted on Wed, 03/22/2006 - 9:37pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Hi Joe,

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to remove federal protections from wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and parts of North and South Dakota, parts of Iowa and Illinois. That means that the power to make decisions about how to manage wolves would change from the federal government to the respective state governments.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? The USFWS set out to help wolves reach a "recovery goal" -- 1251 wolves in MN and at least 100 wolves elsewhere. Minnesota now has about 3020 wolves with about 825 more in Wisconsin/Michigan. That's well in excess of the goal, so according to USFWS standards, it's high time to return management authority to the states.

Is that good for wolves or not? Well it depends on whether you think wolves need more protection or we have enough wolves. Opinions vary widely...what do you think?

posted on Mon, 04/03/2006 - 11:16am
From the Museum Floor's picture

I saw your wolves exhibition at the Science Museum today. How and why did the wolves in the exhibition get there? Were they killed accidentally? Or was it on purpose to put them on display? I've often wondered how animals get into museum exhibits.

posted on Thu, 03/23/2006 - 2:26pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

The wolves in the exhibition came from several different sources. For example, the wolf from the Midwest was hit by a car in northeastern Minnesota. The wolf from the far north was killed legally in the Northwest Territories, and the wolves from the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest were both killed by federal agents related to depredation incidents (the wolves had killed cows).

Wolves die for many reasons. Starvation and disease are big ones (up to 60% die as pups for these reasons). Once a wolf reaches adulthood, its most likely cause of death is humans -- either accidental, legal or illegal.

posted on Mon, 04/03/2006 - 1:25pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how long do wolves live?\r\n

posted on Fri, 03/24/2006 - 1:00pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

It's a hard life being a wolf. Gray wolves in the wild have an average life span of 6 to 8 years, but have been known to live up to 13 years in the wild and 16 years in captivity. Red wolves in the wild have an average life span of 8 to 9 years, but have been known to live up to 12 years in the wild and 16 years in captivity.

posted on Thu, 04/06/2006 - 12:59pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How old is a baby wolf when it goes out on its own?\r\n\r\nSarah

posted on Fri, 04/28/2006 - 1:37pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

A pup will usually stay close to its mother or other adult wolves in its pack throughout its first summer. By fall, the 6-month old wolf must be able to keep up with the pack as it travels many miles throughout the territory in search of food. A pup is fully mature at 21 months of age. Most pups leave their packs, or "disperse," by the time they are three years old.

posted on Tue, 05/02/2006 - 1:04pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

what is your favorite thing about wolves\r\n

posted on Sat, 03/25/2006 - 12:20pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

My favorite thing about wolves would be their "wild" nature. They have a wide range of instinctive behaviors - such as hunting, living in packs and being wary of humans - that have helped wolves to survive for thousands of years.

posted on Mon, 04/10/2006 - 10:10am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Andrea-\r\n Is the wolf poplulation of MN growing?\r\nDo wolves attack people?

posted on Sat, 03/25/2006 - 4:12pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Counting wolves can be tricky!

The last survey of wolf population in Minnesota (done during winter 2003-04) showed that there may have been some increase in the wolf population. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologists estimate the number of wolves within a range between 2301 and 3708 wolves, so for convenience sake they just take the median number and report that as the official estimate of wolves in the state, currently 3,020 wolves. However, the estimated number of wolves from the 1997-1998 survey reported that the state had between 1995 and 2905 wolves, with a median of 2,445 wolves. Even though the more recent median number, 3,020 wolves, is greater than the previous median number of 2,445 wolves, that doesn't necessarily mean that the wolf population is growing, since there is overlap in the range of population estimates.

The Minnesota DNR has lots of great information specific to wolves in Minnesota. Check out http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/wolves/index.html to get basic info., see the management plan, read the full report of the 2004 wolf survey, etc.

"Do wolves attack people?" is also a tricky question to answer. CAN wolves attack people? Sure, wolves are predators and often kill animals much larger than humans to eat (moose, caribou, elk, musk oxen, etc.) WILL wolves attack people? It's highly unlikely. Wolves are extremely wary of humans and tend to stay away from us. However, of the hand full of incidents in which wolves have injured humans, the wolf usually had lost its fear of humans because humans had fed the wolf. The International Wolf Center has some info on this on our Web site: http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/intermed/inter_human/wolf_human.asp.

posted on Mon, 04/03/2006 - 3:08pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Where is the most populated place where wolves live?

posted on Wed, 03/29/2006 - 12:24pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Minnesota has both a lot of wolves a lot of people, relatively speaking. There certainly are places with more wolves, like Alaska and northern Canada, but there aren't many people there. There are also places with lots of people, but no wolves, or relatively few wolves, such as northern Wisconsin and Yellowstone National Park. In fact, scientists think Minnesota has a pretty high density of wolves (wolves per square mile). Eastern Europe has a growing wolf population and plenty of people around, too. Wherever wolves and humans live in the same places, conflicts may arise. Wolves may kill or injure pets, livestock, or, rarely, humans.

posted on Mon, 04/10/2006 - 11:13am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What do wolves eat?

posted on Thu, 03/30/2006 - 11:03am
Andrea Strauss's picture

What a wolf eats depends on where it lives. A wolf in Minnesota mostly eats white-tailed deer or moose. A wolf in the arctic usually eats musx ox or caribou. A wolf in Wyoming or Arizona usually eats elk. All of these animals are large, hooved mammals which as a group can be referred to as ungulates. Certainly wolves are also opportunists, and will eat other animals, such as beaver, hare, and sometimes even livestock.

posted on Mon, 04/03/2006 - 3:15pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Have you ever taken a certain liking to one of the wolves you've seen?\r\n\r\n\r\n-Ellie\r\n\r\n\r\n

posted on Thu, 03/30/2006 - 3:21pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

It's a pretty amazing thing to see a wolf in the wild! Wolves are so elusive that people hardly ever see them, and the only times I've ever seen wild wolves has been when I'm driving down quiet roads in the Ely area in winter. So, which ever wolf I'm looking at at the moment is my favorite.

The International Wolf Center also has seven wolves living in captivity, so they're pretty special, too.

posted on Mon, 04/03/2006 - 3:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How do wolves howl?

posted on Fri, 03/31/2006 - 11:24am
Andrea Strauss's picture

Wolves howl in the same way humans sing...with lungs and vocal chords. Wolves howl for several reasons: to rally a pack before a hunt, to signify a successful hunt, to defend territory, or to gather the pack.

posted on Mon, 04/10/2006 - 11:13am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Are wolves related to dogs and how?\r\nDo you enjoy working with wolves?

posted on Fri, 03/31/2006 - 8:24pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Scientists think that dogs evolved from wolves. Probably 10,000 to 15,000 years ago wolves in some areas may have lost their fear of humans and started hanging around human encampments. Perhaps the people fed the wolves, and the wolves eventually started living among the humans. Those wolves who had the most desirable traits, like submissiveness and mild temperament, were selected as breeders to produce more submissive, mild tempered young. This process of selective breeding - over thousands of generations - produced all the domesticated breeds of dog we know today. It's hard to imagine it, but poodles and chihuahuas all come from various types of wolves! Today, scientists believe that dogs (Canis familiaris) have become a different species from wolves (Canis lupus), though they are both members of the dog (Canis) family.

Do I enjoy working with wolves? Sure! It's fun to work with a subject that other people are so interested in. It makes my job of educating people much easier when they have a natural interest in the subject. Most jobs working with wolves don't actually involve working WITH wolves directly. It's a nice coincidence for me that I get to teach about wolves, think about wolves, and actually help take care of the wolves that we have here at the International Wolf Center. Hopefully, I'm also making the world a better place for wolves in the wild, too!

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 2:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

what do you think was the major reason for the wolves being put on the endangered species list in the first place?

posted on Sat, 04/01/2006 - 12:38pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

People didn't like wolves, so they killed them. It's that simple. When the European settlers came to North America, their goal was to "settle" the country. That meant chopping down trees, killing dangerous animals, starting farms, etc. The wolf was one of many barriers to taming the wilderness, so the settlers shot, trapped and poisoned wolves, bears, hawks, owls, coyotes, and other predators.

By the late 1960s, people had removed wolves from all parts of the lower 48 states except the northeast corner of Minneosta, and they had also removed wolves from many parts of Canada. That's why wolves were put on the endangered species list -- because they were nearly extinct from the lower 48 states. However, even then there were still lots of wolves in Canada, Russia, and some parts of Eastern Europe. Today the number of wolves in most places is growing. The gray wolf has never really been in danger of true extinction from the whole planet.

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 1:48pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how endangered are the wolves in the state of minnesota and what can we do to protect them?

posted on Sat, 04/01/2006 - 9:48pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Endangered is a legal status that hasn't applied to wolves in Minnesota since 1978. We have more wolves here than any other state in the U.S. except Alaska -- 3,020 wolves by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' last estimate. Not quite endangered! Today, wolves carry the federal designation of "Threatened," which means they still are mostly protected by federal law, with a few exceptions. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed lifting the "Threatened" status which means that the Minneosta DNR would take over managing wolves.

The best thing to do to protect wolves is to save wild places where wolves can live without being forced to compete and conflict with humans. Laws protecting wolves have helped wolf numbers to grow. But with the wild land changing so fast into homes, shopping districts, industrial sites and such, the wolves will eventually get crowded out unless we do something. With humans living in such close proximity to wolves, the chances of the two having a conflict (wolves injuring pets, livestock, or, rarely, humans) increases. Wolves and all wildlife need space to live naturally.

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 11:03am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How do you tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote?

posted on Sun, 04/02/2006 - 11:22am
Andrea Strauss's picture

Wolves and coyotes are like cousins in the dog family. Coyotes are generally smaller than wolves, with more petite facial features and disproportionately larger ears. Wolves and coyotes in Minnesota can be the same grey color, or coyotes might be browner with a reddish tinge to their fur.

The International Wolf Center has a flyer that you can print off that compares wolves and coyotes:
http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/basic/pdf/wh_was_that_a_wolf.pdf

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 10:54am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

The population of deer in Northern Minnesota has declined. Someone who hunts in that area feels that it is because of the increase in the wolf population. Do you agree, and would you recommend that the wolf protection be removed?

K McClure

posted on Thu, 04/06/2006 - 5:28pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

The Minnesota DNR estimates that the deer population in Minnesota is increasing and one indication of this is the record hunter harvests each year. However, the forests in northern Minnesota are maturing, with more pines, fir, and spruce trees showing up. This will mean less food for the deer that feed on young aspen and birch saplings. Forest succession is a natural process that starts over after a major event such as a fire, wind storm, disease, or clear cut logging which was common in Minnesota in the early 1900s. It's not uncommon for deer to move about the forests in search of prime feeding opportunities.

Study after study shows that the greatest predictor of deer herd health is winter severity. A deep-snow, extremely cold winter will have a more detrimental effect on the herd than wolves or other predators will. Wolves certainly kill deer (15 - 20 deer per wolf per year), but predators are but one of several factors that limit prey populations.

posted on Mon, 04/10/2006 - 11:25am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Are wolves a danger to humans?

posted on Sat, 04/08/2006 - 9:03pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Cases of wolves injuring people are exceedingly rare, even though wolves certainly have the power to harm humans. Wolves are predators that kill and eat animals much larger than we are -- musk ox, caribou, elk, moose -- as a matter of survival. So why don't wolves injure people more often? It seems that wolves are normally shy around humans. In fact, in Minnesota, the only wolves that weren't killed in the bounty era were probably the wolves who stayed far away from humans. Those wolves' offspring's offspring still keep away from humans. However, if a wolf learns that humans might provide them with food, when humans leaving garbage unsecured or pet food on the porch, or by intentionally feeding the wolves, then the wolves can become incorrigible. They'll come looking for food more often. In almost all cases where wolves have injured people in North America, it's the wolves who lose their fear of humans that cause the problems.

Wolves can be "dangerous" to humans in another way. Although it doesn't happen every day, wolves do sometimes cause problems by killing pets and livestock.

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 10:48am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

hi,my name is rene. i have been to the international wolf center many times. my question is when you put on the radio collars what keeps the wolves from trying to take them off?

posted on Sun, 04/09/2006 - 2:26pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Hi Rene,

When the biologists place radio collars on a wolf, the wolf is usually sedated. Then, after the wolf wakes up, it probably notices that the collar is present, but the collar doesn't interfere with the wolf's ability to travel, eat, sleep, mate, play, etc. -- all the important things wolves do. The collar is just tight enough on the wolf's neck that the wolf can't get its jaw around it to chew it off, and a wolf's paws aren't nimble enough to unscrew the bolts holding the thick leather strapping in place. However, there have been cases when biologists have found a radio collar that was chewed off of a wolf...presumably by another wolf.

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 10:32am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If a wolf is folowing what should you do. Also are wolves dangerous to people or would they only attack if they are hungry or fell threatend.

posted on Sat, 04/15/2006 - 10:15am
Andrea Strauss's picture

If a wolf appears threatening the best thing to do is to yell at it, hold up your arms to make yourself look bigger and try to scare it away. Throw objects at a bold wolf if necessary. It's better for everyone (including the wolf) if wolves are afraid of people.

Even wolves that are hungry or feel threatened probably won't attack a human. In fact, when researchers approached and climbed into a wolf den to assess the wolf pups (presumably a situation that would raise the most defensiveness in a mother wolf) the mother wolf just cowered away from the humans. It's the wolves that become habituated to humans (lose their fear) that may be dangerous.

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 5:05pm
From the Museum Floor's picture

Are there any wolves in Europe?

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 4:08pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Yes, there are lots of wolves in Europe! The wolf situation in Europe is much like the situation in North America. In the more human-populated areas, wolves were removed years ago. However, in places like Spain, France, Croatia and Poland, wolf population numbers are on the rise. Right now, I'm working with my International Wolf Center colleagues to update a World Wolf Status Report so we'll know how wolves are doing in all parts of the world. The last time we took a tally was in 1999, and that report is on the Web at:
http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/basic/populations/fall99insert.asp. The new report is due out by the October 1, 2006.

It's hard to know how wolves are doing in many parts of the world because most places don't study wolves as closely as we do in the United States. Here, we have the economic luxury of radio collaring and tracking wolves. In other countries, governments and universities simply can't afford that level of research, so they may not knowprecisely how many wolves they have, or whether the wolves there are doing well or not.

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 4:58pm
From the Museum Floor's picture

Do you think there will still be wolves around 100 years from now?

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 4:09pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Well, this is the $64,000 question, isn't it?! It's hard to predict what people will do to the environment over the next 100 years. What happens to wolves depends largely on what happens to the environment in general, and particularly what happens to wild lands. My best guess would be that in the year 2106 we'll have a few tracts of wilderness in places like Alaska, Russia and northern Canada, with pockets of wild land in places like Yellowstone National Park. Some wolves will certainly be able to survive there, so I don't think wolves will be gone entirely.

I believe our planet will look really different 100 years from now. Either we humans will have curbed our intense resource consumption and found a way to live sustainably on the planet, or we'll have made a mess of the earth. I've seen enough positive trends lately that I'm optimistic we'll do the right things to keep our planet strong.

Today we're poised to make a really big difference for the future -- for wolves and for ourselves. The choices every citizen makes about how we live on and treat the land (think: recycling, energy use, pollution) determines the future for wolves...and all of us!

posted on Tue, 04/18/2006 - 10:27am
From the Museum Floor's picture

How many different species of wolves are there?

posted on Mon, 04/17/2006 - 4:09pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

It's the gray wolf (Canis lupus) that comes to mind when most people think of wolves. It lives in the northern latitudes around the world. However, there are two more kinds of wolves: the red wolf (Canis rufus) lives only North Carolina, but its historic range included all of the Southeastern United States. Some researchers believe the third kind of wolf, the Ethiopian (or Abyssinian) wolf, (Canis simensis) is not a wolf, but actually a jackal.

The gray wolf has many local variants...sometimes known as subspecies, but they are often difficult to distinguish from one another. Their physical features may be distinct (for example, white fur on arctic wolves), but these subspecies all share the same behaviors, such as hunting and pack social interactions.

posted on Tue, 04/18/2006 - 9:51am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How do the wolves live through out the snowy weather?????

posted on Thu, 04/20/2006 - 10:32am
Andrea Strauss's picture

It sure seems hard to imagine that a wolf's fur is enough to keep it warm even when the temperatures drop way below zero degrees Fahrenheit, but it's true! In fact, the ambassador wolves at the International Wolf Center are very active all winter running, "playing," eating -- all the normal things wolves do. They'll sleep out in the open or under a tree...wherever they feel like it.

Don't they get cold? Wolves (and many cold weather mammals) have two types of fur: the guard hair and the undercoat. The guard hair is what you see when you look at a wolf: shaggy and grey, tan, black, buff or white in color. This hair is coarse and helps keep the rain and snow from reaching the wolf's skin which would otherwise make it cold. The undercoat is shorter than the guard hair, and much thicker. Undercoat is much like wool -- a dense pile of fur to keep the wolf's body heat in. This two-layer system really works!

At this time of year when the weather is starting to warm up, wolves will start losing their undercoat in preparation for the hot summer weather, just like dogs. In fall, they'll grow a new layer of undercoat for the cold months ahead.

posted on Fri, 05/05/2006 - 3:06pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

hi what is the most common wolf that you would see in the usa

posted on Thu, 04/20/2006 - 10:44am
Andrea Strauss's picture

Gray wolves are much more common than red wolves, though actually SEEING a wolf is quite UNcommon. The most recent counts estimate that there are about 4800 gray wolves in the wild in the lower 48 states, while there are about 100 red wolves -- and they only live in North Carolina at this time.

posted on Fri, 05/05/2006 - 2:49pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How is the reintroduction of the Mexican Grey Wolves coming?\r\n\r\nThanks\r\n\r\nSue\r\n

posted on Sat, 04/22/2006 - 10:41am
Andrea Strauss's picture

Hi Sue,

Both wolves and humans are having a tough go of it in the Mexican wolf's recovery area. Although wolves usually hunt elk and deer, they sometimes kill sheep and cows, a practice known as "depredation." A greater number of livestock are killed per wolf in the southwest than in any other part of the country. The few ranchers who lose livestock suffer serious economic harm. While ranchers receive payment for confirmed wolf kills, many of the kills go unconfirmed and uncompensated. The wolves also suffer. Those that kill livestock must be removed from the wild or killed. Subtracting wolves from this already small population hinders their full recovery in the region. Teams of scientists, ranchers, and environmentalists are looking for ways to prevent and fairly compensate depredation, which will give wolves a better chance of expanding their population in the region. As of the end of 2005, there were an estimated 35 to 49 wolves in the recovery area that spans the border between Arizona and New Mexico.

posted on Fri, 05/05/2006 - 2:41pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how do wolves know what territory to stay in?\r\n\r\nClaire

posted on Sun, 04/30/2006 - 3:40pm
Andrea Strauss's picture

Wolves know their territories in the same way you know your home...you remember what it looks like, you remember how to get there. You remember all these details because they matter. If you walked into someone else's house, they would probably kick you out, right? Well, it's the same for wolves - especially in places where there are lots of wolves. Intruding wolves get kicked out (growled at, chased, etc.) of another pack's territory. Wolves sometimes kill each other over territory disputes. Wolves do sometimes disperse, or leave their territories for good. They may look for a mate and an unoccupied territory but it's a risky endeavor traveling through other pack territories. You may remember your home because it LOOKS familiar to you, but a wolf is more likely to remember its home territory because it SMELLS familiar. Wolves have a very keen sense of smell and rely heavily upon it.

posted on Tue, 05/02/2006 - 1:00pm
From the Museum Floor's picture

Why do wolves move in packs?

posted on Tue, 05/02/2006 - 11:29am
Andrea Strauss's picture

One reason why wolves might live in packs is so that a female nursing young doesn't have to leave very young pups in the den to go on hunting excursions...another wolf can bring food to her. Other pack members may also help raise the pups after the pups leave the den. Another reason a wolf would benefit from a pack is that it's much easier to hunt larger prey with several wolves around to help. Bigger prey means more food, but on the other hand, more wolves means more mouths to feed. In this case a pack is both an advantage (catch more/bigger food) and a disadvantage (share the food). Scientists have also observed that pack members sometimes have differentiated roles...some are better hunters, some spend more time with the pups, etc. If you're a wolf and you're not a good hunter, you better have another wolf in your pack that IS a good hunter or there won't be much to eat!

posted on Tue, 05/02/2006 - 12:51pm