There have been ten attacks by wolves on humans in the past four months in Israel, and in most cases the animals were trying to make off with infants or babies, the Haaretz daily reported on Tuesday.
In what is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon, wolves are approaching campsites to try and snatch what they can — including small children.
There are believed to be 100-150 Arabian wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf, living in Israel. Most live in the southern deserts but there are also packs in the Golan Heights and the Galilee.
Haim Berger, described in the report as a wolf expert, said he believes that the animals were not playing or feeling threatened but were hunting for small human prey.
Berger had a close call while out camping with his family three months ago. His children saw a wolf entering the campsite and it appeared quite unafraid of the humans. The animal eventually ran away without incident but the encounter prompted Berger to look into the matter further.
Comparing statistics of attacks in Israel to those in US, where there are tens of thousands of wolves but almost no attacks, Berger came to the conclusion that the local wolf packs have adapted to human society and now see people as not only something to fear but also as a potential source of food, the report said.
“Imagine a wolf that can’t find food for a few days,” Berger said. “Suddenly people arrive and do a barbecue, and the smell spreads across the whole wadi. So it [the wolf] connects people with food and slowly the suspicion goes away. There is a process of adaptation. It is clear that 50 or 100 years ago no wolf would dare to go near the Bedouins who passed through the desert,” he told Haaretz.
Witnesses to attacks have told Berger that the wolves go for the easiest target, usually the smallest child. They can be scared off by groups of people but will often return to try for the same prey again.
Last week, two children were bitten at the Ein Gedi field school and another was attacked at the nearby Ein Gedi spring in the Judean Desert. In all the cases the children suffered light injuries.
Gilad Gabay, southern region director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, said the organization was aware of the problem and was taking measures.
“This is a serious problem and we are taking it very seriously,” he said. “We have notified the public and put up signs that warn against feeding animals at all camping sites.”
Gabbay noted that wardens armed with paintball guns also patrol areas and that aggressive wolves are attacked.
He said the biggest problem is that hikers try to feed the wolves.
“It is a change in behavior that happened because of people. People need to understand that they are in the heart of nature and that every feeding like that has significance. We won’t rest until we stop this, but we need the cooperation of the public.”
So far, there have been no serious injuries in any of the attacks but in some of the cases it was apparently only the quick action of nearby adults that prevented children from being carried off into the wild. Those who were bitten were required to undergo a series of precautionary injections against infection and diseases carried by the wolves.
Gabbay recommended that hikers who encounter a wolf should use any means available to scare it off including shouting, waving, and even throwing stones at it. Hikers should then report the incident and location to the INPA