“Throughout the centuries we have projected on to the wolf the qualities we most despise and fear in ourselves.”
— Barry Lopez
Wolves are magnificent creatures. Distantly related to domesticated dogs along the evolutionary line, they have shown themselves in the wild to be skilled hunters with a complex social structure in their packs.
Yet for years the wolf has been feared by man, just like other predators such as the cougar, tiger, and lion have also been feared. The general perception of the wolf in the eyes of the modern human is one of a bloodthirsty predator who would kill a man or his livestock without hesitation.
The truth, however, is far different.
The wolves will…”travel together ten or twenty miles a day, through the country where they live, eating and sleeping, birthing, playing with sticks, chasing ravens, growing old, barking at bears, scent marking trails, killing moose and staring at the way water in a creek breaks around their legs and flows on”
–Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men
But as history has shown many, many times over, a person’s preconceived notions are rarely swayed by reality. It is in that light that the wolf has been knocked to near extinction. Until reintroduction efforts over two decades ago, the gray wolf was believed to be extinct in the continental United States with the exception of wolves that lived in captivity in America’s zoos and wildlife attractions.
It is because of humans that the wolf was slaughtered in huge numbers. Entire packs were wiped out with both adults and pups killed without any second thought as to the consequences. Today we have deer and game populations that are exploding, resulting in apparently increasing encounters of game animals with urban populations, also increasing the numbers of accidents caused by these animals, both by automobile impacts and automobiles swerving to avoid impacts.
And the solution in many peoples eyes to counter these exploding game populations is by opening up even more the hunting seasons. Instead what we should be doing is embracing the wolf, Nature’s solution to this problem.
“You can’t love nature with a gun”
— Paul Watson
But before that can happen, we need to change our perceptions of the wolf.
And when we have state officials saying they’ll be the first in line to obtain a permit to hunt the wolf, how will that perception change? People refuse to educate themselves about the wolf. I will admit that when I was a child, I had similar notions about the wolf. I didn’t see them for the majestic creatures they were until I opened my eyes and my mind and read about them. I was fascinated.
The wolves need our protection, and they need our protection from idiot politicians harboring the outdated, prejudiced thoughts about the wolf. If you are a farmer, you don’t need to go to great lengths to protect your livestock, nor do you need to shoot every wolf you see. There are options and alternatives to using a rifle to solve any issues, but few will look beyond that.
And the wolf will only suffer again because of that.
In the short time the gray wolf was removed from the endangered species protection, 260 individuals were killed of a census that is believed to have topped 1,700. That’s 15% of a decades-long effort destroyed in a year. And politicians are saying this shows that the States can exercise restraint? Idaho wanted a “controlled” hunt that would have reduced populations down to only a few hundred individuals.
Government agents kill wolves suspected to have attacked livestock, typically from aircraft. To date since state governments and the Federal government started doing this, over 1,300 wolves have been slaughtered. Will shooting wolves stop them from attacking livestock? No it will not. Only a madman would think so. Only better protections of livestock will keep the wolves away — again there are alternatives to rifles and shotguns.
And the utter extinction of the wolf is not an option.
We need to properly educate the populace about the wolf, its place in the food chain and our ecosystem. We need to educate people about the conservation and reintroduction efforts, and why they are important. And more importantly, we need to stop slaughtering animal populations in the name of sport or money. That is how we brought wild bison populations from hundreds of millions down to thousands (some estimates say the populations bottomed out at only a few hundred before conservation efforts were implemented). It is also one reason the gray wolf was almost wiped out, and several other species were driven near or over the line of extinction as a result, such as the Great Auk and the various species of whales, tigers and other wild cats.
Thankfully much of our perception of the wolf has changed, but, as several Republican Senators have recently shown, there is still much to be desired.
Books, films, and other resources:
- Howling for Justice, Blogging for the Gray Wolf
- National Geographic — Wolves: A Legend Returns to Yellowstone (Netflix) (Amazon.com) (National Geographic Store)
- National Wildlife Federation — Wolves (Netflix) (Amazon.com)
- The Wolf Almanac: A Celebration of Wolves and Their World (Amazon.com)
- Of Wolves and Men (Amazon.com)
In the news:
- Brown, Matthew. (2010, October 3). “Western lawmakers turn sights on endangered wolves“. Associated Press.