Public Attitudes Towards Wolves in Croatia: Positive Change with the Wolf Population Drop

Public Attitudes Towards Wolves in Croatia: Positive Change with the Wolf Population Drop



Reprinted with permission from Djuro Huber.

Djuro Huber
Biology Department, Veterinary Faculty, Heinzelova 55, 41000 Zagreb, Republic of Croatia

Berislav Radisic
Biology Department, Veterinary Faculty, Heinzelova 55, 41000 Zagreb, Republic of Croatia

Dinko Novosel
Biology Department, Veterinary Faculty, Heinzelova 55, 41000 Zagreb, Republic of Croatia

Alojzije Frkovic
Croatian Forests, Delnice Forest Office, Supilova 32, 51300 Delnice, Republic of Croatia


The contemporary survival of wolves (Canis lupus), like the other large predators, almost entirely depends on the willingness of man to accept his presence in certain areas. Therefore the potential success of conservation measures is closely related to the attitude of local inhabitants towards the species in concern.

Recent estimates show that fewer than 50 wolves (most probably only around 30) live in Croatia today. Historically the whole Croatia was wolf habitat, but today wolves inhabit only the mountainous regions in Gorski kotar and Lika. Prosecuted as pests they were killed in an average of 274 annually in the period 1954-72, mostly due to stimulations by high bounties. There were no population estimates at that times, but it can be guessed that the wolf numbers could have been around 800 (600 – 1000).

The damage which the wolves have been doing on livestock during many centuries and until some 20 years ago, created an entirely negative image of wolves in the minds of the most people. From 1945 to about 1975, the hatred against wolves was supported by the state run public campaign. Killing of wolves was organized and stimulated. In some periods the bounty was equivalent to the monthly salary of an forestry engineer. With the decrease of the amount of damage done by wolves (in Gorski Kotar area the last confirmed damage by wolves was in 1984) the use of poisons to kill wolves was forbidden in 1972 and the use of leg hold traps in 1975, while the bounties were canceled in 1976. Though the wolves remained legally unprotected until today the annual killing of them dropped significantly (Frkovi and Huber 1993).

The attitude of people towards wolves was studied in 1983 (Gyorgy 1984) and in 1986/87 (Huber et al. 1993) in Croatia, and in 1992 (Huber et al. 1993) in Macedonia (for comparison with a more stable wolf population). Public opinion of foreign visitors to the Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia about bears and wolves was studied in 1985 (Mori} and Huber 1989).

We wanted to investigate the present attitudes of people towards wolves in Croatia and find out the eventual change in the last 6 to 10 years as well as to compare the attitudes of people living in the wolf habitat and the ones living in towns. The objectives of this study were to determine the factors influencing the human attitudes and the possible ways to change the negative attitude.

A total of 106 questionnaires were taken: 53 by people that cohabitate with wolves (rural in later text) and 53 from urban areas of towns Karlovac and Zagreb (urban in later text). Each quiz, containing 12 groups of questions, was completed by interview taken by the second or third author. Answers were analyzed for each question for all examinees together and then for groups of examinees following the criteria of the place of living, hunting involvement, educational level, sex and age. Answers to some questions were analyzed in relation to one or more other answers in the same quiz. Percentages were calculated of the total number of answers obtained for each question. Chi-square (Chi2) test was used to determine the statistically significant differences: P ( 0.05 (1 DF, Chi2 ) 3.841) was considered as a threshold for significance.

Absolute numbers of answers to some of analyzed questions are shown in Table 1, and for that data here are used only percentages. Ninety percent of all examinees agree that the wolf population decreased in the last 20 years in Croatia. There was no difference between rural and urban examinees (Chi2 = 0.33). Fifty-eight percent of rural and only 2% of urban interviewed people said that the wolves live around their homes (Chi2 = 37.6), while 66% vs. 25% have seen it (Chi2 = 16.8), 60% vs. 26% have herd the wolf howling (Chi2 = 11.1), and 26% vs. 0% have killed one or more wolves (Chi2 = 13.9), respectively (Table 1). Because of the highly significantly different exposure to wolves we have only incorporated the answers of rural people as relevant concerning questions about wolf biology. It should be noted that only 5 out of 35 rural persons that have seen a wolf one or more times, had such an experience in the last 12 months. A total of 95 wolves were killed by 14 persons: in average 6.8 (range 1 -20) wolves per hunter. The fact that 40% (14 of 35) of persons that have seen a wolf have also killed at least one, demonstrates how dangerous for wolf is an encounter with a human. Out of a total of 54 reported sightings, in 30 (55%) cases wolf was seen alone, in 8 (15%) in a pair, or in 16 (30%) cases in a pack of the size range 3 – 17 (mean = 5.5). This distribution is almost the same (no significant differences; Chi2 = 0.05 to 0,60) as in older survey in Croatia and Macedonia in 1986/87 (Huber et al. 1992). All sightings of wolves were quite equally distributed over year, day and habitat types. The 5 reported wolf litter sightseers have counted 3 – 9 pups (average 4.7) per litter.

All 53 rural examinees believe that roe deer is the most common wolf natural food, and 46 (88%) of them put the red deer on the second place. The sheep (91%), dog (79%), goat (66%), and cattle (64%) are ranked as the most common domestic prey. Only 8% (N = 4) examinees are using some of the measures to protect their livestock.

From the fourth place as a pest, in the minds of rural people in 1986/87 (Huber et al. 1992), the wolf dropped to the seventh position counting the animals for which >50% of examinees felt to be of greater damage than wolves (Table 2).

Wolf is considered as a useful species in nature by 68% rural and 60% urban people (Chi2 = 0.37, difference not significant). This is contrasted to 100% rural examinees in Macedonia who see wolves harmful (Huber et al. 1992). In 1983 in Croatia 42% people considered wolf harmful (Gyorgy 1984), compared to the 25% in this study (Chi2 = 10.2, significant). At the time of the study of Gyorgy (1984) the share of rural people claiming the wolf to be harmful was 70% and among urban people 27% (Chi2 = 65.0, very significant). However, only 9% of foreign visitors to Croatia in 1985 considered wolf as a harmful species (Mori} and Huber 1989). Nobody in rural and 40% in urban Macedonia (Huber et al. 1992) considered wolf population too low. In Croatia 66% rural and 70% urban people feel that there is too few wolves, and only 8% vs. 2% thinks that there is to many (Chi2 = 0.84, not significant). On the contrary in 1983 (Gyorgy 1984) even 31% (43 of 139) rural and 10% (25 of 248) urban people stated that there are too many wolves (Chi2 = 25.3, significantly more rural than urban). The drop number of rural believers in too many wolves from 31% to 8% is also very significant (Chi2 = 10.1) (Fig. 1). Highly significantly more people today believe that the number of wolves is too low vs. the ones believing in enough or too many wolves (Chi2 = 25.8). The percent of rural people that would like to introduce again the bounties for killed wolves dropped significantly from 1986/87 (Huber et al. 1992): from 85% to 23%, Chi2 = 38.86, as well as the ones that would again like to use poisons against wolves: from 26% to 4%, Chi2 = 8.91 (Fig. 1).

Comparing the attitudes to all three large predators among rural people in Croatia the wolf got the higher number of voices for total protection (27%) than bear (15%) and lynx (11%). Wolf was the second with only 8% for extermination among rural, as well as among urban examinees (Fig. 2, Table 1). In the survey by Gyorgy (1984) in 1983 even 21% (81 of 387) people wanted to exterminate wolf (significantly more than in 1993, Chi2 = 9.19), while only 5% of (42 of 710) foreign visitors to Croatia in 1985 had the same opinion (Mori and Huber, 1989).

Answers of a total of 29 hunters were compared to 25 rural non-hunters: 96% hunters and 48% non-hunters consider wolf population too low (significant, Chi2 = 5.82). Though the differences among the other answers were not significant the general attitude of hunters was more positive, e. g. 76% hunters vs. 56% non-hunters consider wolf useful (Chi2 = 2.39), and 34% hunters vs. 16% non-hunters would give wolves total protection (Chi2 = 1.52). Selecting examined persons with more experience with wolves, i.e. the ones that had faced at least 2 of the following events: seen, heard, killed wolf or found litter, vs. less experienced, no significant differences in attitudes towards wolves were found (Chi2 = 0.03 – 2.3).

Comparing 80 male vs. 26 female examinees, significantly more males find the wolf useful and necessary to protect (Chi2 = 3.87 and 9.56). However, more females would give full protection to lynx (50% vs. 26%, Chi2 = 4.05). People below and over 50 years of age did not differ in attitudes towards wolves (Chi2 = 0.05 to 3.77), but the older group wanted to protect lynx more than younger ones (36% vs 33%, Chi2 = 9.78).

Examinees with high education (N = 29) compared with the ones with lower and intermediate education (N = 77) showed significantly (Chi2 = 5.38 to 8.55) more positive attitude towards wolves: considering them useful, too few, refusing bounties and asking for total protection.

Profession related to agriculture and forestry (N = 32) vs. all other professions (N = 74) showed no preferences in attitudes towards wolves.

A very positive change of general attitude towards wolves in Croatia compared to the last 6 or 10 years before was documented.

  • 1. The overall percentage of people considering the wolf as a harmful species dropped from 42% in 1983 to 25% in 1993 (Chi2 = 10.2). However, already in 1985 only 9% of foreign visitors to Croatia considered the wolf as a harmful species.
  • 2. In 1983 even 21% people wanted to exterminate wolf, compared to 8% today (Chi2 = 9.19), while only 5% of foreign visitors to Croatia in 1985 had the same opinion.
  • 3. The percent of rural people that would like to introduce again the bounties for killed wolves dropped significantly from 1986/87: from 85% to 23%, Chi2 = 38.86, as well as the ones that would again like to use poisons against wolves: from 26% to 4%, Chi2 = 8.91.
  • 4. Ninety percent of all examinees agree that the wolf population decreased in the last 20 years in Croatia.

It can be concluded that the size of wolf population, and the related size of damage are the principle determinants of the attitude of local human population towards wolves. From 1986/87 the wolf dropped from the fourth to the seventh place as a pest animal in the people’s minds.

The attitude towards wolves in Croatia seems already favorable enough for the urgent introduction of legal protection. Additional informing and educating the public about the real wolf population status would further contribute to the conservation of species. Saving the wolves in Croatia would help save their population in the neighboring Slovenia, and it is an essential step to facilitate further dispersal of wolves towards northwest, i.e. Alps.

1. Gyorgy, J. 1984. Istra`ivanje javnog miljenja o vukovima u Hrvatskoj. Drugi kongres biologa hrvatske, Zadar, pp 116-117.
2. Huber, D, Mitevski, S., and Kuhar, D. 1992. Questionnaire on wolves in Croatia and Macedonia: comparison of public attitudes. pp. 124 – 125 in Wolves in Europe – status and perspectives. C. Promberger and W. Schroder, editors. Oberammergau, Germany.
3. Mori, S., and Huber, D. 1989. Istra`ivanje miljenja stranih posjetilaca Nacionalnog parka Plitvi~ka jezera o medvjedima i vukovima. Ekologija. 24: 21-33.

Fig. 1. Percents of the examined rural persons in Croatia that think that the wolf population is too high, that the bounty should be paid for the killed wolf, and that the poisons should be used against them. Compared are the data from this study with the ones from 1983 (Gyorgy 1984) or 1986/87 (Huber et al. 1992).

Fig. 2. Comparisons of attitudes towards wolves, bears and lynx in Croatia. Shown are the percents of the examined rural persons in Croatia that would give to the wolf, bear and lynx the total protection or would like to see them exterminated.

Table 1. Answers to selected questions from the Wolf questionnaire in Croatia.


Rural Examinees
Urban Examinees
    1986/87 a 1993
Wolf population decreased in the last 20 years Yes 45 49 32
No 8 4 5
Wolves live around homesite Yes 46 31 1
No 7 22 52
Have seen a wolf Yes 47 35 13
No 5 18 40
Have heard a wolf howling Yes 39 32 14
No 9 21 39
Have killed a wolf Yes 5 14 0
No 30 39 53
Wolves are harmful in nature Yes 163b 12 14
No 387b 41 39
Wolf Population is too low Yes 35 37
No 18 16
Bounty for a killed wolf Yes 29 12 9
No 5 41 44
Poisons against wolves Yes 9 2 1
No 38 51 52
Desired Status for wolves Protection 14 25
Season 34 24
Extermination 4 4
Desired Status for bear Protection 8 32
Season 44 19
Extermination 1 2
Desired Status for lynx Protection 6 29
Season 33 21
Extermination 14 3

a From Huber et al. (1992) b Data for 1983 from Gyorgy (1984)

Table 2. Wolf rank as a pest in the minds of examined people cohabitating with wolves. Numbers in brackets show the percent of examinees that see that animal/s as bigger pest/s than wolves.

Rank 1986/87a 1993
1 Bear [85%] Wild Boar [89%]
2 Wild Boar [60%] Insects [85%]
3 Fox [58%] Bear [79%]
4 WOLF   Lynx [72%]
5 Birds [45%] Rodents [62%]
6 Rodents [23%] Fox [57%]
7 Lynx [21%] WOLF  
8 Insects [21%] Hare [30%]
9 Hare [10%] Birds [29%]

a From Huber et al. (1992)