Deaths recorded in Norwegian parish registers as caused by bears and wolves

The parish registers are official books for every parish in Norway, containing information on religious actions. They provide, from the beginning of the 1700s, a countrywide contemporary source on, amongst much else, deaths, but the cause of death was not systematically included until after 1800. From then on, the sexton’s register was written according to the same formula as the vicar’s.

This extensive source material is investigated with an intention to document all mention of predators as a cause of death. A nationwide overview is given, with reference to where the information is recorded. In all, 33 incidents are found, 28 involving bears and 5 wolves, leading to 39 deaths. Lacunae in the burial records and other deficiencies in the records give reason to believe that the number of such fatalities over the past 300 years is somewhat higher. Some instances are recorded in other sources. Nonetheless the evidence from the parish registers is sufficiently comprehensive to conclude that death caused by pedators was seldom in Norway. This also applies to the time that the population of predators was much larger. In the 200-year period from 1705-1906, there were, according to the parish registers, on average 0.2 such deaths per year.

Fear of predators is reasonable when it concerns the loss of domestic animals, but hardly when it comes to people’s life and health, apart from in a few special situations. The policy today is to establish heartlands for predators. These bear little relationship to the geographical spread of incidents recorded in the parish registers.