Why Fear the Wolf?
IT WAS January 12, 1765. Seven children—five boys and two girls—were watching their herds near a village in France. These youngsters were not together for company but for protection. Reports were circulating that within the last six months nearly a dozen children had been killed by a wolf. Others had been bitten on the head and face but managed to escape.
The children were watching their charges when suddenly a wolf appeared on the scene. The three eldest boys—all twelve-year-olds—courageously faced the animal with homemade pikes. But the wolf broke through their guard and grabbed the smallest boy by the cheek. Though the three eldest boys forced the wolf to let go at once, the animal again attacked, knocking down the other boy. The children drove the animal off once more. But their fight was by no means over. The small boy who had been knocked down became the wolf’s target. The animal returned and seized him by the arm. The other children rushed to the rescue. But the wolf would not let go until forced into a mudhole and submitted to a series of beatings on its head. Then the wolf took to flight, not to return.
According to authentic records, between the years 1764 and 1767 this particular wolf and another one attacked over a hundred persons, mostly youngsters, in central France. Scores of children thus met a horrible death. After both of these wolves were shot, the frightful killings ended.
Reports of human deaths at the jaws of wolves are not infrequent in other parts of Europe and central Asia, particularly Russia. The tally of deaths attributed to wolves in Russia for the year 1875 alone was 161 persons. So over the centuries possibly thousands of persons have been attacked by wolves.
That this should be the case may seem very strange in view of an entirely different record for wolves in other parts of the earth. The work The Animal Kingdom (1954, Vol. I, p. 431) states: “The gray or timber wolf has a forbidding reputation—all of man’s history is studded with accounts of its ferocity. Yet there is no verified report of a wolf’s ever having made an unprovoked attack on man, anywhere in North America.”
How can this difference be explained? Might it be that the wolves in parts of Europe and Asia are far more dangerous than those of North America?
There is no indication that the wolves in one part of the earth are any more vicious than those inhabiting another part of the earth. Available evidence points to but one conclusion: Wolves that attack humans usually have rabies. That this was the case at the time large numbers of wolves roamed through the forests of Europe is evident from the way people generally reacted to these creatures. Even children usually showed no great fear of them. Customarily youngsters of all ages and sizes, equipped with sticks, would herd sheep, goats or cattle in areas infested by wolves. Only when there was definite proof of danger would children band together for protection.
But what about the two non-rabid wolves that killed scores of children in France within a three-year period? According to the accounts, these were no ordinary wolves. Both had unusual features, suggesting that they may have been hybrids. Both were larger than the common variety and had abnormal coloration. The one had a white throat and the fur of the other animal was reddish. Being abnormal in size and coloration, these wolves were also abnormal in attacking humans.
Despite the fact that the reputation of the North American wolf has not been that of a man-eater, this creature has been the object of intense hatred. Over the years, farmers and ranchers have waged relentless warfare against it, virtually driving it into extinction.
At one time the red wolf could be found throughout the southeastern United States, from Florida to Texas. Poisoned and trapped by the thousands, red wolves had been eradicated from most of their former habitat by 1950. Thereafter a federal predator-control program brought death to an additional 27,646 red wolves between 1955 and 1964. Science News of February 17, 1973, reports: “Now it is estimated that only 200 to 300 red wolves remain in several counties in Texas and Louisiana.” These wolves live mainly on land owned by ranchers who view them as a danger to their domestic animals.
The larger gray or timber wolf has not fared too well either. At one time this mammal made its home throughout the United States. But now it is basically limited to parts of Michigan and Minnesota.
Why have owners of sheep and cattle kept battling against the wolf? Loss of livestock has been the prime consideration. Israel Putnam of the eighteenth century, for example, lost about seventy of his animals to one female timber wolf in just one night. Little wonder that he hated wolves. During the nineteenth century, with the vanishing of buffalo, antelope and deer herds from the Great Plains, wolves were forced to look for other prey. So they began taking their share of domestic sheep and cattle. Timber wolves reportedly killed more domestic animals than they could actually eat and drove some ranchers into bankruptcy. As the cattle herds increased, so did the wolves. Eventually, in the United States, one million dollars was paid out in wolf bounties each year. Finally, in the twentieth century, hunters began destroying wolf cubs in their dens. That is why today the timber wolf is found in less than one percent of the area that it once roamed.
But is the wolf so bad as to warrant extinction? No, say many. “Wolves,” they insist, “are not only extremely interesting and intelligent animals; they are vital in maintaining the delicate balance of nature.” In the final analysis, not the wolf, but man has been largely responsible for upsetting this balance, thereby depriving many creatures of their customary food.
Yes, the wolf, like other wild animals, prefers to avoid man but may attack if diseased, provoked, wounded, cornered, or suddenly surprised. What the Bible says about man’s relationship to the animals is, therefore, vindicated. Noah and his family were told after the global deluge: “A fear of you and a terror of you will continue upon every living creature of the earth.” (Gen. 9:2) So if not unduly interfering with its way of life, humans have no reason to be in great fear of the wolf.