This is a warning to outdoor users about a potentially deadly biological event that could result from one’s curiosity to poke at and kick through scat from wolves, coyotes and foxes. Of course not everyone knowingly does this but many hunters, trappers and simply the curious, want to know what these animals have been eating.

Back in the end of November I gave you a link to a story, “Of Wolves and Worms”. That story introduced many of us to the subject of worms being found in wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area.

According to a new study out in the October issue of the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, three-millimeter-long tapeworms known as Echinococcus granulosus, are documented for the first time in gray wolves in Idaho and Montana. And the authors didn’t just find a few tapeworms here and there… turns out that of 123 wolf intestines sampled, 62 percent of the Idaho gray wolves and 63 percent of the Montana gray wolves were positive. (Ew!) The researchers wrote: “The detection of thousands of tapeworms per wolf was a common finding.” (Again… Ew!!) This leads to the interpretation that the E. granulosus parasite rate is fairly widespread and established in the Northern Rocky Mountain wolves.

There is discussion about how some think the worms ended up in the wolves in this region but the article tends to downplay any serious concerns people should have from coming in contact with these tapeworms and the eggs they leave behind.

In the comments section of the article, Will Graves, author of the book “Wolves in Russia: Anxiety Through the Ages“, left his thoughts on his own research discoveries about the dangers to humans of these parasites.

In the first paragraph in my letter to Mr. Bangs dated 3 October 1993 on the DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) which was titled “The Reintroduction of Gray Wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho,” I warned about the damages and problems wolves would cause to Yellowstone and other areas by carrying and spreading parasites and diseases over larger areas. Some of these parasites are damaging not only to wild and domestic animals, but can also be dangerous to humans. One of these parasites is Echinococcous Granulosus and Echinococcus M. Since 1993 I have been working to tell people what I have learned from about 50 years of research on the characteristics, habits and behavior of Russian wolves. From that research I came to the conclusion that one of the most serious consequences of bring wolves into the US would be the wolves carrying and spreading around damaging/dangerous parasites and diseases. I did my best to explain this in my book titled, “Wolves in Russia – Anxiety Through the Ages” edited by Dr. Valerius Geist. Details about my book are in my web site:

After several years effort, I finally recently obtained help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Parasitic Research Center in Beltsville, MD. This research center will try to conduct research on the blood taken from wolves in our western states. One parasite they will be researching is to determine if wolves carry and spread the parasite Neospora Caninum around. It is established that coyotes and dogs carry this damaging parasite.

I remember that about two years ago there was a report about one wolf carrying Echinococcus Granulosus in Montana.

Much more research is needed about the danger wolves bring to our environment. Some of the parasites carried by wolves are dangerous to humans.(emphasis added)

Around this same time that Will Graves posted his comments, he contacted me by email and asked if I could somehow be of assistance to him in obtaining blood samples from wolves taken during the Idaho and Montana wolf hunts. The word went out quickly and hopefully Graves gets what he needs to help him in his research. This can become extremely valuable information for all of us.

In the meantime, Dr. Valerius Geist, professor emeritus University of Calgary and Dr. Charles Kay, of Utah State University, who holds degrees in wildlife ecology, environmental studies and wildlife biology, exchanged thoughts on the discovery of worms in Yellowstone wolves in emails I received.

Well, Charles? What else is new? What did we warn about, how we were censored as alarmists………………………
And yes, a colleague assured us that all that is not a problem for us, but for some native types. Nothing to worry about, really. Remember how, early on, we put out a warning – do not kick dry wolf feces or poke about in such looking for evidence of food habits. Do not handle wolf feces as it will disturb the tiny Echinococcus eggs that float up like little dust cloud to envelop you, and you are very likely to ingest some of that “dust”. This know-how, which we older Canadian types carried away from our parasitogy lessons was poo-hood by some American colleagues. Wolves are after all, harmless! Remember the question we posed: is it really such a great idea completing ecosystems when the progression is herbivores, carnivores, finally diseases and parasites?

It is not my intention nor that of Drs. Geist and Kay to attempt to instill unnecessary fear in people but to educate, as it was back in the day before wolf reintroduction. There are very important lessons and warnings that all should heed and take into consideration when in the woods or maybe even in your own back yard.

Dr. Geist emailed me the other day and asked me if I would be kind enough to post this information so that anyone and everyone will be aware of the potential for some very serious health issues.

Urgent: could you make a point of it that now, that we know that the majority of wolves are infected with Echinococcus, that all hunters control their curiosity and not poke about in wolf or coyote feces to find out what these predators ate. these feces are saturated with tiny, lightweight Echinococcus eggs that rise like dust plume from the disturbed feces and envelop the poking hunter. If the air-born eggs are ingested, the an infection is possible, and having Echinococcus cysts grow inside oneself is not a desirable condition. Trust me!

He followed that up with more information about the dangers.

As to the pathogenicity of Echinococcus granulosus: Yes, I noticed that Foayt, leaning on Raup’s research in Alaska, toned down the dangers from this northern form. My understanding based on what we learned from an old, experienced parasitologist at the University of British Columbia is that it’s nothing to fool around with. It’s serious! In my career as a biologist in touch with the north, I have heard nothing else. I have not, however, done a recent literature search. Foayte’s assessment may be on even though it conflicts with mine. Either way, getting an Echinococcus cyst of any kind is no laughing matter as it can grow not only on the liver or the lungs, but also in the brain. And then it’s fatal.

There is however, another much more alarming angle. Echinococcus multilocularis is a nightmare, and much more virulent than Echinococcus granulosus of any strain. We cannot encapsulate this cyst, and it grows and buds off like a cancer infecting different parts of the body incessantly. Were some of the wolves infected with multilocularis? Coyotes and foxes carry it and it has been spreading. Do canids in Idaho, Montana, etc. have it? It’s found in Alberta. Regardless, now is the time to send out an SOS to ALL outdoor users. Hold your curiosity in check, do not poke into the feces of wolves, coyotes and foxes. If you do you will release clouds of Echinococcus eggs which will envelop you, and you may ingest the eggs, bring the eggs home and endanger your family. This is nothing new to me and I have lived with this constraint on my curiosity for over 40 years. This is just a know how that maintains your personal and your family’s safety. Also, never feed uncooked offal to your dog as it may become infected with Echinococcus and infect you and your family. Echinococcus cysts love to be in lung and liver, and if consumed by dogs you have a health hazard on your hands. And such cysts now grow in deer and elk where you live. Somebody should take a second look searching out Echinococcus multilocularis.

You and I probably have no idea in the world whether these worms exist in the woods we hunt, trap, hike, etc. but good advice given by Dr. Geist should tell us it’s not something we should mess around with. Squelch the curiosity to dig in the poop and just assume there could be hidden danger.

I want to take a moment to thank Will Graves, Dr. Val Geist and Dr. Charles Kay for caring enough about the rest of us to be willing to share their findings and experiences.

Tom Remington