The gray wolf , grey wolf , or common wolf (Canis lupus ) is the largest extant member of the dog family of mammals, the Canidae . The species was the world's most widely distributed mammal but has become extinct in much of Western Europe , in Mexico and much of the USA . Wolves occur primarily but not exclusively in wilderness and remote areas. Their original worldwide range has been reduced by about one-third by deliberate persecution due to depredation on livestock and fear of attacks on humans. Although the species still faces some threats, it is relatively widespread with a stable population trend and has therefore been assessed as Least Concern by IUCN since 2004.
Though once abundant over much of Eurasia , North Africa and North America , the gray wolf inhabits a reduced portion of its former range due to widespread destruction of its territory, human encroachment, and the resulting human-wolf encounters that sparked broad extirpation . Today, wolves are protected in some areas, hunted for sport in others, or may be subject to population control or extermination as threats to livestock, people, and pets.
Gray wolves are social predators that live in nuclear families consisting of a mated pair, their offspring and, occasionally, adopted immature wolves. They primarily feed on ungulates , which they hunt by wearing them down in short chases. Gray wolves are typically apex predators throughout their range, with only humans and tigers posing significant threats to them. Genetic studies reaffirm that the gray wolf is the ancestor of the domestic dog . A number of other Canis lupus subspecies have been identified, though the actual number of subspecies is still open to discussion. In areas where human cultures and wolves both occur, wolves frequently feature in the folklore and mythology of those cultures, both positively and negatively.
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