The gray wolf (Canis lupus[a]), also known as the timber wolf, true wolf or western wolf[b] is a canid native to the wilderness and remote areas of North America, Eurasia, and North Africa. It is the largest extant member of its family, with males averaging 43–45 kg (95–99 lb), and females 36–38.5 kg (79–85 lb). Like the red wolf, it is distinguished from other Canis species by its larger size and less pointed features, particularly on the ears and muzzle. Its winter fur is long and bushy, and predominantly a mottled gray in color, although nearly pure white, red, or brown to black also occur.

The gray wolf is the most specialised member of the genus Canis, as demonstrated by its morphological adaptations to hunting large prey, its more gregarious nature, and its highly advanced expressive behavior. It is nonetheless closely related enough to smaller Canis species, such as the eastern wolf, coyote and golden jackal to produce fertile hybrids. It is the only species of Canis to have a range encompassing both the Old and New Worlds, and originated in Eurasia during the Pleistocene, colonizing North America on at least three separate occasions during the Rancholabrean. It is a social animal, travelling in nuclear families consisting of a mated pair, accompanied by the pair’s adult offspring. The gray wolf is typically an apex predator throughout its range, with only humans and tigers posing a serious threat to it. It feeds primarily on large ungulates, though it also eats smaller animals, livestock, carrion, and garbage.

The gray wolf is one of the world’s best known and well researched animals, with probably more books written about it than any other wildlife species. It has a long history of association with humans, having been despised and hunted in most pastoral communities due to its attacks on livestock, while conversely being respected in some agrarian and hunter-gatherer societies. It is the sole ancestor of the dog, which genetic and paleontological records indicate was first domesticated in Europe 18,800-32,100 years ago by hunter-gatherers. Although the fear of wolves is pervasive in many human societies, the majority of recorded attacks on people have been attributed to animals suffering from rabies. Non-rabid wolves have attacked and killed people, mainly children, but this is unusual, as wolves are relatively few, live away from people, and have been taught to fear humans by hunters and shepherds.

The gray wolf was once one of the world’s most widely distributed mammals, living throughout the northern hemisphere north of 15°N latitude in North America and 12°N in India. However, deliberate human persecution has reduced the species’ range to about one third, due to livestock predation and fear over attacks on humans. The species is now extinct in much of Western Europe, in Mexico and much of the USA. In modern times, the gray wolf occurs mostly in wilderness and remote areas, particularly in Canada, Alaska and northern USA, Europe, and Asia from about 75°N to 12°N. Wolf population declines have been arrested since the 1970s, and have fostered recolonization and reintroduction in parts of its former range, due to legal protection, changes in land-use and rural human population shifts to cities. Competition with humans for livestock and game species, concerns over the danger posed by wolves to people, and habitat fragmentation pose a continued threat to the species. Despite these threats, because of the gray wolf’s relatively widespread range and stable population, it is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN.



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