An Elusive Creature—Hated and Loved
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN CANADA
CANIS LUPUS. There it is on a craggy ledge high in a rocky range, outlined in the darkness by the light of the moon, with head up, long bushy tail between its legs, ears back, mouth open—its eerie howl piercing the night air. Why, the mere thought of its howling brings shivers of fear and excitement!
FEW people have had the privilege of seeing this beautiful but elusive creature—commonly known as the gray wolf or timber wolf—in the wild. Nevertheless, this fascinating animal brings to mind many and varied images.
Hated and Loved
Whatever the perception, emotions inspired by the word “wolf” have always run deep. It has been the focus of misunderstanding, bias, and fear. Some people despise the wolf because it is a predator. Wolves have been a constant irritation to farmers and ranchers by preying on sheep, cattle, and other livestock. Legends and folklore have contributed to its bad reputation. Who has not heard the expressions “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” and “to keep the wolf from the door”? Fables picture it as “The Big Bad Wolf.” One such story tells of a wolf threatening to eat a little girl. This has given people the notion that wolves attack people.
However, scientists and biologists view wolves another way. They regard them as extremely shy creatures who try to avoid humans as much as possible. In fact, according to a recent article appearing in GEO magazine, wolves actually fear man. Despite wolves’ fierce appearance, there seems to be no basis for the belief that healthy, wild wolves of North America are a danger to man.
Biologist Paul Paquet, who has done extensive wolf research, admits to having a love for these wild creatures since his childhood. He has recorded some of his observations. He claims he has often seen wolves expressing happiness, loneliness, and humor. Once he observed an old, crippled wolf that could no longer hunt who was being brought food by other pack members. Even though the wolf had outlived its usefulness, the pack still valued its life and was keeping it alive. This characteristic of pack hunting, however, has threatened their very existence.
Hunting in packs is merely how wolves satisfy their hunger and feed their pups. It must be recognized, though, that the killing of sheep and cattle by wolves is an annoying problem for farmers. As a predator with excellent vision, a keen sense of smell, fine hearing, and an incredibly powerful bite—as well as being suited for running and trotting—the wolf is well equipped for the hunt. It is also an opportunist. It would be foolish to think this crafty creature would turn down any easily available prey it can catch or snatch—especially large, fat sheep and cattle. It might be said that wolves unwittingly “benefit” their prey in the wild by culling out the easier kill, the unhealthy and the weak, thus leaving more food for the healthy ones.
What about that eerie howling that can be heard for miles and that strikes fear in the listener? To the wolf this is simply a social activity of the pack—a form of communication. A wolf who has become separated during a hunt may climb a ridge and howl to attract other members of the pack. Or howling may be used to define its territory. Sometimes wolves seem to howl just to express happiness. When a pack get together to howl, you would almost think they were enjoying a sing-along. To us it might sound better if they were to sing in unison, but they appear to prefer chords. Of course they have other means of communication as well. There are what have been described as the whimper, the growl, the bark, the social squeak, and the yipping of the pups in the den. Communication by posture is also used to establish social status and bonding among the pack.
A Beautiful Creature
Look closely at this outstandingly beautiful creature. Observe its thick coat of predominantly gray hair (some are jet black), with intermingled white, black, and brown hairs. Focus on the stare of its penetrating clear yellow eyes. Examine its facial markings. All of these make the wolf a magnificent animal to behold. Concerns, however, are being voiced about its future. Is there reason for concern?
Well, what was once common across much of Europe, Asia, and North America—the sighting of a wolf—is now rare in Canada, Alaska, and less-populated regions of the United States, Europe, and Russia. People are saying they must make room for some wolves in selected wild areas. Since humans have learned to live with predators such as eagles, bears, and mountain lions, there are those who are asking, “Why not likewise live with wolves?”
Letting Nature Take Its Course
Protection, not eradication or control, is the byword. Parks are now regarded as safety zones for animals, not just wilderness playgrounds for people. According to Canadian Geographic magazine, park managers would like to see a naturally regulated ecosystem. After a 40-year absence from Banff National Park, Canada, the principal predator, the wolf, returned on its own in the 1980’s to the southern Rockies—only 65 in number, but a positive event in the minds of many. France reports the return of the wolf after a 50-year absence.* In Italy the wolf is also making a return and can be heard howling again at Tivoli, near Rome.
Wolf reintroduction as an endangered species in Yellowstone National Park, United States, is being considered. Wolves were part of the region’s natural system over 40 years ago, before they were exterminated. Now many people, particularly park visitors, want them back. The livestock industry, however, is deeply concerned about wolves being reintroduced into their range. “When wolves are returned to Yellowstone, wolf management outside the park will become a fact of life,” says wolf biologist L. David Mech.
What will tomorrow bring to this creature that lives in a world only partially glimpsed by humans?
The Future of the Wolf
The number of people supporting the recovery of an animal that has lived on the edge of human tolerance for so long indicates a decided shift in attitude. The book The Wolf—The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species states: “There is still time left to rescue the species from its plight. Whether or not this is done depends on man’s knowledge of the ecology and behavior of the wolf, his continued research into the ways of the wolf, and his learning to think of the wolf not as a competitor but as a fellow creature with which the earth must be shared.”
Living in Peace
Peaceful coexistence between people and wolves may have improved during the past few years, but where there is a conflict, true peace cannot be attained. This must be left to a time in the near future when, under the Creator’s Kingdom government, all animosity and fear will be replaced with a trusting, sharing attitude for this strong but sensitive and shy creature.
Interestingly, the Bible characterizes the wolf in various prophetic settings, allowing us to see it in opposing lights. At Acts 20:29, 30, apostate men are metaphorically described as “oppressive wolves” who would attack the sheeplike Christian congregation and remove some individual members from the flock.
The prophecies in the Bible book of Isaiah, though yet to see final fulfillment, describe animals we know today to be each other’s enemies as dwelling together peacefully. Note the absence of the prey-predator relationship at Isaiah 65:25: “‘The wolf and the lamb themselves will feed as one, and the lion will eat straw just like the bull . . . They will do no harm nor cause any ruin in all my holy mountain,’ Jehovah has said.”
While man’s efforts show that he is trying to tolerate the wolf, the scripture just quoted assures us that God has a place for it in his new system of things. Planet Earth will then be a shared home for all forms of life, including Canis lupus.
See “Watching the World” in Awake! of January 22, 1994.
[Picture Credit Line on page 25]
Thomas Kitchin/Victoria Hurst
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]