There are few things that stir the blood like a wolf howl, it’s a haunting, primeval sound, which seems to embody the spirit of pristine wildernesses. One of the more charismatic creatures, the iconic signature beast of the planets wild places.
In the past week there have been a series of articles and programmes which have provided mixed reports, and feelings about the recovery of wolves. I was especially shocked to discover through a Facebook post that the state of Montana has made hunting wolves easier. Over 6,000 people have paid $19 to kill a wolf, this seems particularly shameful, as Montana now has only 625 wolves after last year’s hunting season.
Earlier today, a programme called “Lost Land of the Wolf” piqued my interest . It seems wolves are spreading down the Cascades, through Washington State, Oregon, and apparently even reaching as far as California.
Finally I’d become aware of the success of wildlife in recovering in Europe, including wolves, bears, moose and European lynx. Tempering the good news slightly is research, which shows that hunting of moose and other iconic animals is recovering in many wilderness areas.
There seem ample reasons for optimism, however among the good news there are, warnings which need heeding, and lessons learning.
Our fear of wolves is deeply ingrained, primeval and therefore understandable, our hatred of them in a modern world not so. Wolves have been subjects of superstitious myths for generations, they’re portrayed as evil in Hollywood films, and indiscriminate, relentless killers which destroy prey animal populations. Surely in an educated, world free of ignorance there isn’t any place for such prejudice. Many indigenous nations venerate them, often taking them as guiding spirits. Not the first time they have lessons to teach us.
They have a wild beauty, the charismatic spirit of our wild places, the living embodiment of the soul of our remote landscapes. The are the heart of our desolate wildernesses. We should celebrate their return to previous haunts, the places we drove them from in our earlier ignorance. What if anything have we learned, we still wish to persecute them?
Wolves are adaptable, so is mankind, so being able to live together shouldn’t be difficult. Farmers have the right to protect their livestock, and wolf control is acceptable if wolves are proven to have killed their animals, threatening their livelihood. However, elk and deer hunters protecting a multi-million dollar industry does not seem so clear-cut.
Claims that they destroy herds, is wholly inaccurate, apex predators control not destroy populations. They are not indiscriminate killers, most hunts are unsuccessful, and they survive by preying on weak or sick animals, which ultimately strengthens these herds.
Mankind is possibly the only species directly or indirectly responsible for eliminating another, not once, but many times. Through hunting, or introducing invasive species, and not just rats, or domestic pets. Goats are a plague in the Galápagos, pythons even feed off alligators in Florida, American mink decimate water vole populations in the United Kingdom, a European rabbit population has exploded in Australia from just 24 original animals, and the charismatic, Kakapo in New Zealand, one of the world’s rarest birds, being ground dwelling is defenceless against introduced stoats, cats and dogs.
The list of our mistakes is almost limitless, introducing invasive species with little thought or understanding of the consequences. The native species usually have little defence against the introduced ones, and the effect catastrophic on populations.
Introducing mongoose to control rat infestation in Hawaii is almost legendary in its stupidity. The mongoose being active during the day, rarely ever meets a nocturnal rat, but happily feasts on birds, small mammals, reptiles, eggs and hatchlings.
In the programme “Lost Land of the Wolf” a wolf conservationist spent a day with a hunter, dedicated to eradicating wolves in Washington State. It must have been difficult for her, as he represented everything she detested.
He decorated his lodge with a sign saying “I kill illegal aliens, the gray Canadian kind”. Excuse me, just who is the true native here? The oldest undisputed evidence of man in North America is “Clovis man” dating back around 13,000 years. Human faeces were discovered in Oregon possibly as old as 14,500 years, and theories suggest man arriving on the continent across the Beringia around 18,000 years ago.
Gray Wolves migrated from Eurasia to North America probably around 750,000 years ago, so maybe they have a stronger claim to being native than we do?
Coincidentally, the disappearance of North America’s megafauna appears to have coincided with man’s appearance, just remind me again who the indiscriminate apex killer is.
The hunter came across as a reasonable character, not a fanatic. One statement he made did seem slightly strange though; he appeared to condemn wolves because “one animal devours” another. This is confusing, as the very nature of nature; control of a species by natural selection. this is survival of the fittest, eliminating the weak and sick. He did not seem vegetarian either, so I’m guessing he probably devours his fair share of animals too!
Wolves are an apex predator, one of nature’s natural methods of culling, they keep prey animals under control, removing weak animals from the herd. They are essential to any ecosystem, in the long-term strengthening herds, by eliminating potential illness. A place is possible for them alongside mankind, we need to learn from our many mistakes, adapting to live in harmony with nature.
Indigenous people have managed their environment for centuries, living within their surroundings, and not living beyond the means of their homeland. Inuit hunters kill seals, whales and even polar bears, creatures we cringe at the thought of them being slaughtered. Makah Indians hunt great whales, and islanders in the South Pacific have hunted sperm whales for generations from pirogues, risking their lives to do so, feeding their village for months on a single kill. They hunt these iconic species merely to feed their tribes and families, this predation however, have had little impact on the populations over the centuries.
We need to learn that we have responsibility towards the planet, we have only asset stripped her so far. Isn’t it time to take care of our home, and the species we share it with?
There is as much pleasure gained from stalking and capturing an image of an animal as to ending its life. The added bonus; many other people can enjoy the same thrill of the hunt for years to come.
Wildlife photography is as successful as hunting, it is also a multi-million dollar industry, and a more sustainable one.
One thing is certain, we need to give the charismatic wolf a break, allow it to live in peace without undue disturbance. Long may the haunting howl of the wolf be heard in our wildernesses; continuing the song of the wild.
*All images are of captive wolves, to date I’ve not been fortunate enough to see a wild one
Please consider signing the petition – “Stop the Plan to Slaughter Wolves.”