Brief fact sheet Wolf (Canis lupus)


<p> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p>                Map of the distribution of the wolf (Canis lupus) in Europe</p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p>

To enlarge the map please click on the image.

© EuroNatur/ Kerstin Sauer

The wolf was once at home all over Europe. In considerable parts of its original range particularly in West and Central Europe the species was systematically hunted down by humans and finally wiped out. Today larger contiguous populations only exist in the Balkans and in Eastern Europe.

In other regions of Europe there are only smaller populations and these are isolated from one another. In the last few years through increased human efforts to protect them the populations have begun to increase in some European countries, as for instance in Italy, Poland and Croatia. Since the end of the 1990s wolves have also begun to establish themselves in the East of Germany.

Notes on the map
Data source: Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe (LCIE) and EuroNatur's own surveys.

The boundaries marked here only indicate the core distribution areas as far as at present known. Lone individuals and smaller populations may be found outside these areas.



Wolves are highly adaptable. And can therefore live in a variety of habitats. The fact that most packs are to be found in forests can be traced to their having been mercilessly hunted over centuries and so driven into more remote areas. For wolves to settle permanently in an area there have to be a sufficient source of water and prey as well as undisturbed places for them to rear their young.

Photo gallery

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Physical features

Wolves are the forefathers of our domestic dogs. In some breeds, as for instance in sheepdogs, there a number of similar physical features. In contrast to similarly built dog breeds wolves however have a longer trunk. The chest is higher and narrower in shape. Wolves can reach a body length of 100 to 150 centimetres, a shoulder height of 60 to 90 centimetres and a weight of 30 to 70 kilos, with the females being in general smaller and lighter than the males. Wolves show a great variety of marking. However in the moderate latitudes of Europe the wolf's coat is predominantly a dark grey to dark brown.


  • the typical footprint of an adult wolf is 8 to 10 cm in length
  • the claws are clearly visible in the footprint.


In Central Europe the mating season for wolves lies in the months of January to March. The young wolf cubs are born from April to June. A litter is usually four to six cubs, at most twelve. The she-wolf gives birth in a burrow she has dug herself or has taken over from other animals such as the fox and then enlarged for her own needs. A vital factor for the location of the burrow is to have a source of water in the immediate vicinity.

The newly-born cubs are only 300 to 500 grammes in weight. They are blind and deaf and have fine, dark fur. The wolf suckles her young six to eight weeks but the cubs can eat solid food from about the 20th day. At eight months the young have reached adult size. But they do not leave the pack until they are about two years old with the advent of sexual maturity, when they go in search of their own partners and found new wolf families.

In summer 2016 from beginning of June until middle of July EuroNatur-Partner WILK filmed a wolf family in Western Poland via hidden camera. The video clip shows how fast the young cubs mature:

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Depending on the season and habitat, the composition of a wolf's diet varies considerably. In the winter large non-carnivorous mammals are the main prey: elks and reindeer in Northern Europe and deer and wild boar in the more southerly regions. In the summer smaller mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and wild fruit fill its menu. In the vicinity of human settlements a wolf will also snatch sheep and calves. If prey is scarce it will also eat both carrion and refuse.


Degree of endangerment / Conservation status

Altogether the populations of wolves have been increasing in Europe over the last few years. Nevertheless these grey-coated hunters are still viewed sceptically by many people.  And although wolves are in the meantime protected by law in most countries in Europe they are often too hastily shot when there are conflicts with the interests of livestock owners and hunters. In Europe the wolf is protected by law according to the following three directives:

  • The Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of the Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which monitors the trade in wild animals and plants.
  • The Bern Convention, an agreement for the preservation and protection of European wild plants and animals and their habitats.
  • The FFH directive (Flora-Fauna-Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC) which regulates the designation and conservation of habitats and wildlife and must be implemented by all EU member states in national law.

The hounded hunters - Wolves in Europe

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