Even in modern times, with all the protections afforded to humans by technological advancement, a wolf’s howl can send a chill up one’s spine. These deadly mammals are known to hunt in packs and have all the power needed to take down large prey. Wolf attacks on humans are rare, but they have been recorded throughout history. In the case of the deadliest wolf to ever live, 11 children and 1 adult were killed over three months, and 19 others were hurt. Today, we’re going to explore the man-eating Wolf of Gysinge, the world’s deadliest wolf ever to live.
See how this wolf became the stuff of nightmares as it rampaged throughout Sweden in the early 1820s and what happened to wolves in the country shortly after!
Do Wolves Usually Attack Humans?
Wolf attacks on human beings are quite rare in modern times. Dwindling wolf populations, urbanization, technology, and knowledge about how to avoid attacks have minimized wolf-human interactions.
From 2002 to 2018, only 489 wolf attacks occurred around the world. Only 67 of those attacks were predatory, and 380 of them were rabid attacks. Wolf attacks are exceedingly rare and often result from the animal having rabies.
However, this has not always been the case, especially in the 19th century when the Wolf of Gysinge was alive. During that time, nearly 100 fatal attacks occurred in Scandinavia.
When wolves hunt human beings, they rarely only defend their territory. Although rabies is a common cause of wolf attacks, they will also attack humans to feed on them as prey.
One of the ways we know this is that most attacks on humans occur against children. The same can be seen with the world’s deadliest wolf except in two cases where it attacked an 18-year-old and another where it attacked a 19-year-old. Generally speaking, wolves fear humans and avoid them when possible. By taking a child, the wolf minimizes the threat to itself.
Why Did the Wolf of Gysinge Attack?
As we’ve said, wolves fear humans, so it’s very rare for them to attack human beings or want anything to do with human settlements. The Wolf of Gysinge was different, but not by chance.
A historical account of the attacks says that the wolf involved in the attacks was captured as a wolf pup and kept as a pet for several years starting in 1817. While that may seem like the beginning of a sweet made-for-TV movie, it was almost certainly a deadly mistake. When wolves are kept as pets, the animals lose their instinctual fear of humans.
At some point, they’ll realize that humans are not all that scary, and that means they’re potential prey. In this case, the Wolf of Gysinge became tired of being cooped up and broke out. We don’t know how long it took for the Wolf of Gysinge to start hunting humans, but we know that it became the world’s deadliest wolf.
What Made the Wolf of Gysinge the World’s Deadliest Wolf?
The Wolf of Gysinge was responsible for 31 attacks against human beings. The wolf killed 12 people and injured 19 others. Most of the victims were under the age of 12. One 19-year-old woman was killed, and one 18-year-old man was injured during the attacks.
Most of the 12 humans killed during this attack were at least partially eaten by the wolf by the time they were discovered.
Perhaps the scariest fact about these attacks is the short time in which they took place. The attacks occurred between December 30, 1820, and March 27, 1821. That averages out to one attack every 3 days over 3 months. This wolf managed all this on its own! To say that it was an apex predator is an understatement.
As a gray wolf, the Wolf of Gysinge was anywhere between 80lbs and 150lbs with sharp teeth and enough speed to chase down any human being. A single wolf could easily kill a strong human adult, but this wolf was smart. It went for the weakest and least capable people.
We’ll never know how much the wolf’s captivity impacted its willingness and desire to go after human beings. However, it seems possible that it benefitted from the knowledge that humans are relatively weak without a weapon on hand.
What Made The Wolf of Gysinge an Unusual Hunter?
Wolves tend to live and hunt in packs, using cursorial predation to wear out and kill their foes. The Wolf of Gysinge did not have a pack because it was raised by humans. When the wolf escaped captivity and started its killing spree, it did so alone.
It’s doubtful that the wolf would retain the same kind of hunting strategy as a lone hunter. The wolf probably went straight for the kill against its small, weak foes.
Another interesting element of these attacks is that the wolf ate the humans. As we’ve said before, wolf-human predation is rare, but this wolf ate some of nearly all its victims.
We also don’t know how the survivors managed to avoid becoming a meal for the wolf. Human intervention could have scared off the wolf during its attacks on children, and the surviving adult may have fought back against the wolf.
Eventually, people became aware of the wolf and decided it was time to take action.
How Did the World’s Deadliest Wolf Die?
The world’s deadliest wolf was killed on March 27, 1821. No details about the methods used to attack and kill the Wolf of Gysinge are known. Given the time period, it’s almost certain that firearms were employed.
The reign of the Wolf of Gysinge was undoubtedly a frightening time for people in this area of Sweden. It wasn’t long after these attacks that wolves were hunted to extinction in Sweden. By the 1960s, few if any wolves lived in the country.
However, they have slowly made their way back into the ground through Russia and Finland. The presence of wolves is continually debated. Some argue that they should not be allowed to make a return because of the dangers they pose to humans, and the brief reign of the Wolf of Gysinge would be a fair point for the opposition.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © shymar27/Shutterstock.com
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