Hope you’re enjoying my wolfie posts so far! As most fellow wolf lovers will know, the wolf is sadly an endangered species now. There are several reasons for this. Most people used to be afraid of wolves, and in the Middle Ages in particular superstition was rife and people believed that werewolves were real. The Catholic church were one of the groups who exploited this sinister image of the wolf and, during the years of the Inquisition, used the peoples’ fear of werewolves to help maintain secular control. Between 1850 and 1900 more than a million wolves were killed and ‘wolf bounties’ were offered to anyone bringing in a dead wolf. People also used to poison wolves.
Due to these factors, the wolf has been exterminated in most of Europe over the past four centuries, though pockets of wolves survive in mountainous Spain, France, Italy, and forested Finland. The wolf population of Asia has been equally decimated, although substantial numbers remain in remote corners of the Middle East and on the Russian and Mongolian steppes.
When the first European settlers arrived in America, they brought their beliefs of the dark and dangerous wolf with them. In contrast, the indigenous people of North America both admired and emulated the wolf. The Native Americans respected the wolf’s hunting abilities and honored him because he provided food for the community at large-the fox, the coyote, and the raven. To some the wolf was seen as a wise, powerful, an instinctive hunter, a teacher in fact, of tactics humans could emulate against buffalo or caribou.Despite this, the European way of life won out, and in the lower 48 states, gray wolves were hunted to near extinction, though some populations survived and others have since been reintroduced.
The even rarer red wolves live in the southeastern United States. These animals actually became extinct in the wild in 1980. Scientists established a breeding program with a small number of captive red wolves and have reintroduced the animal to North Carolina. Today, perhaps 100 red wolves survive in the wild.
Today, the wolf is slowly starting to come back, but as its population increases so does its conflicts with humans. With the growing human population the wolf is coming into contact with people in areas where they have not been seen before. Wolves need lots of land, away from humans, to live and raise their families. As our population has grown, the amount of wilderness where wolves can live has gotten smaller.
Ranchers and farmers worry that wolves will eat their livestock – cows, sheep, pigs. In the areas where farmers and ranchers come into conflict with wolves, there may be some killing of problem wolves by the federal government. Today there is a strong anti-wolf lobby, some judges and political leaders in these areas are feeling pressure to side with this lobby. In the United States and Canada wolves are for the most part protected from unrestricted hunting, but in others countries such as Russia, and parts of eastern Europe wolf bounties are still paid. More and more wolves and man come into conflict with each other, in poor rural areas of Russia for example, hunting of deer and other wild game has increased causing competition between man and wolf. With less game to hunt wolves look for other food sources such as domestic sheep and cattle.
So, what does the future hold for them? Wolves are wild animals, meant to live out their lives in freedom. When human beings interfere in the lives of wild animals, it becomes their responsibility to provide what the animals cannot provide for themselves – a healthy environment in which to live. Many Ranchers and others are now seeing a real understanding of the wolf and through some preventive measures on their part (Checking herd regularly, removing carrion, having guard dogs, etc.), both the wolf and man can live together. It is an emotional debate for many people, with those who wish to see the wolf destroyed or controlled and those who think no wolf should ever be killed. The wolf has been part of the natural balance for thousands of years, and we need to learn to live in balance with them.
Take care x