With warmer weather and decreasing restrictions, more people are recreating in the outdoors, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is seeing an increase in the number of potential sightings of wolves in the state.
Gray wolves historically inhabited most of Colorado, but were extirpated. The last known resident wolves in Colorado were in the 1940s until the most recent sighting of a group of wolves in northwest Colorado in 2020.
Two groups of campers in Grand County over the weekend of June 6-7 were surprised to see a large wolf-like animal in the area in very close proximity to their camps. The incidents were reported to CPW. Wildlife officers and biologists responded to the area to gather biological evidence that could be used to confirm the presence of a wolf versus a coyote, lost or escaped domestic dog or domestic wolf-hybrid. Additional searches and monitoring of the area are continuing. Contacts with local animal control officials confirm no missing hybrids in the area. Biological samples were limited. The animal approaching humans so blatantly is atypical wolf behavior so additional work will be needed to fully confirm the animal’s identity.
Aggressive behavior from wild wolves towards humans is rare. Mark McNay of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game compiled information about documented wolf-human encounters in “A Case History of Wolf-Human Encounters in Alaska and Canada” which was published in 2002. There are 59,000 to 70,000 gray wolves in Alaska and Canada, and since 1970 there were 16 cases of non-rabid wolves biting people. Six of those cases were severe. Since that report was written, wolves killed a man in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 2005. In 2010, a woman jogging outside a remote village in Alaska was killed by wolves. In both instances, habituation to humans was a key factor in the deaths.
Generally, wild wolves are shy of people and avoid contact with them whenever possible. However, any wild animal can be dangerous if it is cornered, injured or sick, or has become habituated to people through activities such as artificial feeding. People should avoid actions that encourage wolves to spend time near people or become dependent on them for food.
RVers and others who see or hear wolves in Colorado are encouraged to complete the computer-based wolf sighting form available online at https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/