Which is Sweden’s most dangerous animal?
Dangerous animals in Sweden? Yes, but maybe not the ones you think... Here’s an overview.
Sweden is a great place if you are interested in wildlife. You can spot moose, reindeer, deer and various birds without too much effort.
But Sweden is also home to predators such as the bear, wolf, lynx and wolverine. Which makes sense, considering that Sweden is the third-largest country in the European Union yet has the second-lowest population density – 25.5 people per square kilometre in 2020. This translates into a lot of open space, from privately owned forests to national parks and pure wilderness.
Some people imagine that these predators roam around freely and even venture into cities; that they literally live amongst us. Then again, a hard-killed myth about Sweden is that we have polar bears in the wild. We don’t. And very few people ever get to see a large predator in the wild in Sweden. Still many humans fear these creatures, but not nearly as much as they fear us. The predators of Sweden tend to avoid humans like the plague. So, are they dangerous?
There are some 250 wolves in Sweden. The wolf is protected and may not be killed unless there are risks for repeated attacks on life or property. The wolf feeds mainly on the moose.
The wolverine (Gulo gulo) is primarily a scavenger. There are around 650 wolverines in Sweden. When stressed or followed, the wolverine secrets a skunk-like odour.
There are around 1,500 lynx (Lynx lynx) in Sweden. It feeds mainly on reindeer or deer. Starvation is the most common cause of death among the young.
Blueberries on the menu
As far as anyone knows, the lynx and wolverine have never hurt a human being in Sweden. Ever.
Even though the wolf feeds on certain animals larger than itself, the last recorded wolf attack on humans in the wild happened in 1821. On that occasion, the wolf that attacked had been born in captivity and later released.
But the bear has been known to attack – and even kill – humans in modern times.
According to De 5 Stora – the Large Carnivore Centre, an information centre about Sweden's five largest carnivores – 61 persons were involved in aggressive/threatening bear incidents during 1977–2019 (link in Swedish). A majority of these happened during hunts. It turns out bears actually prefer to eat blueberries.
People’s fears are difficult if not impossible to put to an end. Benny Gäfvert of the Large Carnivore Centre says: ‘Myths about predators start to build from an early age, through children’s books and tales. These animals have also had a historical impact on human lives that is still on-going.’ The historical impact he refers to is mainly about livestock, which is the main reason our predators remain controversial and a continued cause for debate: what is a healthy number of predators in a country like Sweden?
‘I am convinced that Sweden will be home to large predators even in the distant future’, Gäfvert says. ‘All sides on the debate have a consensus when it comes to the preservation of large predators, from hunters to conservationists. The only question is how big a population.’
So which animal is the most dangerous?
Not only does Sweden have the so-called right of public access, which allows us to roam freely in nature, but our nature is also safe. Karin Åström, vice chair of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen), sums it up:
‘Swedish nature is amazing – there is so much of it and essentially nothing dangerous lives in it unless you are allergic or hypersensitive’, she says. ‘The most dangerous things in Swedish nature are the things we don’t tend to talk about – wasps and bees.’
Wasps actually do kill more people than any other animal in Sweden, about one per year. Being stung by a wasp can be painful, but unless you are allergic, you are in no danger.
If you plan to spend time in Swedish nature, do read up on ticks and how to avoid their bites – they are carriers of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE).
A bite from the most poisonous spider in Sweden is about as harmful to humans as a mosquito bite. Sweden's only poisonous snake is also fairly harmless unless you happen to be allergic.
Meeting a predator in the wild
So Sweden is pretty much harmless, at least in terms of dangerous animals, and we are not about to replace the moose with a wasp in our tourist shops. But what if you happen to meet a wolf or a bear? Or what if you want to see one?
Gäfvert at the Large Carnivore Centre says that ‘the best chance is to hire a professional tracker or book a hideout. Some of them nearly guarantee sightings of bear. Wolf is more challenging to track and see.’
If you happen to meet a wolf or bear alone in the wild, you should step away facing the animal and make noises like singing or talking. Don’t run: they are much, much faster than you and it might trigger their predatory instincts. If a wolf follows, make yourself seem large and dangerous, step towards rather than away from it. If it against all odds were to attack, fight back! If a bear moves towards you, however, drop some belongings and hopefully that will shift the attention away from you. If, again against all odds, you are attacked, lie down on the ground face down and protect your head and neck.
The Large Carnivore Centre claims that the most dangerous carnivore in Sweden is mankind. So even though it might feel more natural to wear earth tones for a hike, be sure to put on a bright-coloured top to prevent hunters mistaking you for a moose. Hunting season in Sweden varies depending on prey and region.