An amateur advocate. I've dedicated free time to learning all I can about wolves from reading material to seminars.
The Wolf in the Forest
He's there, but you don't always know. He sees what you do not. He hunts and sings to the moon.
Wolves (Canis lupus) are a hot topic in the US at the moment. Removed from the Endangered Species Act earlier this year, it has become an open door for ranchers and hunters to hunt them with little regulation. Wisconsin, Idaho, Montana—these are just a few states taking full advantage of the "open season" on wolves. Ranchers use the excuse of their livestock being decimated. This is a farce; the wolves are not destroying the ranchers' livestock, as wolf attacks only account for about 1% of livestock deaths.
Wolves are the largest of all canids in the canine family. In the US, there are two dominant species of wolves: the red wolf (Canis rufus) and the grey wolf (Canis lupus). Grey wolves live in northeastern United States, Canada, and Europe. The red wolf lives in the southeastern United States. There are also subspecies like the Arctic wolf and the Mexican wolf.
What the general public may not know is that a wolf pack does not consist of random wolves banding together. A pack is a family, usually consisting of a "breeding pair" or the alphas "parents" and their kids.
As wolves are highly social creatures, the packs can also have aunts, uncles, and even grandparents and adopted wolves. When packs are killed, it is no different than gunning down a family in a home. It is a tragedy.
This article is dedicated to the wolf and aims to change the misconceptions about these highly intelligent, but persecuted animals.
The Wolf and the Man
The grey wolf once dominated North America, but by the mid-1900s, the wolves' population was almost non-existent. In the 1990s, the wolf was reintroduced to National Parks like Yellowstone and states such as Idaho, Wyoming, Montana. As their numbers slowly recovered, wolves migrated to other states: Washington, California, and Nevada.
Despite what people may want to believe, wolves are more entwined with us than we'd care to admit.
Long ago, the wolf lived side-by-side with humans. There's speculation it was the wolf who decided to initiate domestication of themselves for the human. Perhaps they hid in the shadows of the camp or village fires and squabbled over leftovers and cast-offs thrown their way.
According to scientists, the domestication of wolves occurred roughly 30,000 years ago. And from this domestication came the support of the wolf to the man in his quest for domestication of livestock. It wasn't until after the domestication of sheep, goats, and other animals that humans turned on their once-upon-a-time allies.
Fear and Hatred
Centuries later, it was the Europeans traveling to the New World who brought the fairy tales—unfounded fear of the Big Bad Wolf—and used them to ignite the imagination and instill fear in the hearts of many.
Cruel, Sly, Immoral
These are the words long associated with these beautiful creatures. However, the natives regarded the Canis lupus in a different light. While the Europeans hated him, the Native Americans revered him as an animal of wisdom and a spiritual deity. To the natives, the wolf was good and righteous, loyal to the end, and a guardian of the forests.
The Canis Lupus
Teamwork: a word humans often think they know and yet do not understand.
The wolf shows incredible examples of cooperation, especially when hunting. They are built for long distances and harsh wildernesses. They also have great patience, often tracking their prey for days.
Contrary to what is believed, wolves are a valuable balance to the ecosystems they live. They hunt the infirm and the old, strengthening the health of the herds in which they hunt, and at the same time maintain a stable number of herd animals like elk and deer.
TV can be deceiving: some documentaries have shown wolves on the hunt showing aggression towards their prey (growling, snarls). This is not a true depiction of the wolf. Snarls and growls are part of what’s called Social Aggression. If this were true, they’d be displaying intent to fight.
Instead, a hunting wolf is likely very similar to a happy-go-lucky dog. His tail and ears are up and wagging, he's excited, and he’s laser focused on his target.
The Big Picture
Their importance became glaringly apparent in the wild during the years the wolf was almost eradicated.
Yellowstone's aspen trees rarely reached their full height due to herbivores overeating. With fewer trees and shrubs, soil eroded from the traffic of elk and deer. The earth worn away, the creeks, rivers, and streams became muddied; thus, fish and other aquatic animals could not feed. With less vegetation, the water grew warmer, becoming unlivable for aquatic species.
Coyote numbers soared with no competition; their diet mainly consists of mammals such as voles and gophers. The over-hunting resulted in less food for other predators like birds of prey, foxes, weasels, and more.
These changes may have been considered a small thing by themselves, but all together it is horrifying to see the impact of an environment due to the disappearance of one species. Much like the ramifications of losing the honey bee, the wolf too has significance and the destruction of them has a domino effect that affects everything and everyone.
A Last Word
It is worthwhile to visit a sanctuary at least once in your lifetime. While the metal fencing that cages these animals is a sad reminder the world is a dangerous place for them on the outside, it gives the public a chance to see these beautiful creatures up close.
The people dedicated to their care are knowledgeable, courageous, and exceptional. Wolf Hollow, located in Ipswich, Massachusetts, is one such location.
They take the time to teach the public about the importance of these animals and strive to make the world a better place for them. And they are not the only ones. There are other advocates across the country, ready to do what it takes to save the wolf. If people can learn more about them and understand them, the Big, Bad Wolf persona will disappear, hopefully forever.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Regin St Cyr
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 27, 2021:
Excellent article, Regin. As an active member of Defenders of Wildlife, I couldn't agree with you more. Our wolves are precious and have a place in the circle of life. Man does not have the right to kill them off. Live and let live!