Wolves roamed the earth long before the first human beings existed. They lived all over the northern half of the globe – from Mexico to Canada, from Portugal and Spain to Japan, and from the northeastern parts of Africa to India.
Many scientists today think that ancient people learned their hunting skills from the wolves, and that they tried to “domesticate” wolves by stealing cubs out of dens to tame and use them for hunting purposes. Some even believe that the first means of human communication are based on the wolf’s “language”, because they were able to communicate with each other long before humans began to develop communication skills. The details of these studies make for most fascinating reading! However, humans never really understood wolves. Because these animals were supremely skilled hunters, humans felt they were competing with them for the same vital resource, i.e., food, and therefore considered wolves an enemy. The only humans who ever grasped the core being of wolves to a large extent, respected them, even revered them, were the North American Indians (Amerindians) – but they also eventually had to share their destiny.
In the early 1800’s the most horrifying tales about bloodthirsty wolves attacking unsuspecting humans and devouring them, started to spread all over the world. These fairytales were constantly nurtured, passed on from generation to generation, and grew taller every time they were retold. As a result the wolf obtained a reputation of the “devil incarnate”. Still today, most people believe that wolves howl at the moon, attack and eat humans, are unbelievably large and heavy monsters, and are driven mad by the smell of blood. More often than not the actual culprit was later identified to have been a stray or rabid dog, a bear, a puma, a coyote, or the product of vivid imagination. None of this is true. What we know about wolves is still very little, but what we do not know is a lot, and might never be discovered. This fact and the horrifying stories about the “evil” wolf are the most likely reasons for the wolves having been hunted to the brink of extinction during the last 100 years.
Wolves are predators, yes, and they kill other animals to survive. But in general they kill the weak, injured or sick members of a herd. This actually benefits the herd by leaving the strong and healthy to reproduce. As humans occupied more and more of the former wild land, urbanizing it, turning it into fields, or using it as grazing grounds for their domestic stocks, the natural hunting grounds of wolves became smaller and smaller. Domestic animals turned out to be an easy prey, and this only fuelled the human hatred.
Today, quite a number of wolf species are extinct. But thanks to dedicated wolf protection groups and organisations many have survived, if only in small numbers. In many parts of North America wolves had been placed under strict protection, and were reintroduced to their native environments. They started to recover in numbers, and were again able to lead happy and protected lives. Wolves were also reintroduced to the wild in some European locations, and now thrive under the protection of strict laws.
Unfortunately this is not the happy ending of this story – decision-makers of some government departments in the US obviously regard trophy hunting as a welcome source of filling depleted state coffers. These trophies need not necessarily be the wolves themselves, but their natural prey (ungulates such as elk, moose, caribou etc.). By removing the wolf from the natural equation, more hunting permits can be issued (sold) to trigger-happy citizens. In Alaska wolves are “culled” (= killed) out of the safety of a helicopter or airplane cabin by authorized pilots, who chase them until they are cornered or so exhausted that they can not run any farther and make for easy targets.
The responsible parties call this “predator control” and justify it with the argument that growing wolf populations are a threat to the number of moose, buffalo, and other wild animals (which can thus be reserved for affluent trophy hunters). The truth is that trophy hunters are after the biggest and strongest members of a herd. This in turn weakens the herds by leaving them with the sick and less strong members.
While one may have some kind of understanding for the early reasons to kill wolves out of fear and misunderstanding, the reasons given today are totally unacceptable. The manner in which it is done is cruel, the motivation purely dictated by greed. Their ignorance and disrespect shown toward anything non-human clearly is a step back in human evolution.
During the latter part of the Alaskan hunting season 2003/04 140+ wolves were killed by means of heli-hunting and others for no other reason than a lot of money and “fun”. It is only a short time to the start of the next hunting season, and unless public resistance stops the greedy, cruel and shortsighted creatures allowing these murders, the meaningless slaughter may continue until there will be no wolves left.
Today some wolf populations have regained impressive pack sizes which, very unfortunately, led to a downgrading of their protection status. Although it is good to know that they are no longer threatened by immediate extinction, a lower protection status also bears the risk of more “accidental” wolf-killings, punishable by less severe sentences.
Again, after so many years of careful and strict protection, large financial investments in studies, reintroduction and rescue programs, and even bigger efforts to save one of the most beautiful, intelligent and fascinating animals from extinction, the future of the wolves appears uncertain once again. When will humans begin to learn that they are not the only ones with a right to live on this planet?